Men’s soccer says goodbye to one of greatest recruiting classes after MAC Championship loss
In the first half of Sunday’s Mid-American Conference Championship Game, the Akron Zips outshot the Buffalo Bulls 13-0. By the end of the game, Akron had outshot UB 25-4 and had a 15-0 edge in corner kicks.
Yet, for the second straight year, Buffalo (12-4-3, 2-1-2 MAC) nearly pulled off the upset over Akron (12-5-3, 3-1-1 MAC) in the MAC Final. The team trailed 2-1 late in the second half, but Buffalo had several near-goal opportunities. In the 83rd minute, junior goalkeeper Joseph Kuta took the worse half of a massive collision with Akron freshman Nick Hinds that left Kuta on the ground for minutes. Even with a bloody nose, Kuta stayed in the net and kept fighting, making several more saves before the final whistle.
In many ways, the second half of Sunday’s game was a microcosm for these last four years for Buffalo.
Even when it didn’t look pretty, the resilience, toughness and fight has been evident since head coach Stu Riddle took over the program four years ago. Buffalo could have lost by multiple goals in Sunday’s game but instead nearly pushed to overtime.
Following the 2-1 loss, the program will say goodbye to Riddle’s original recruiting class, who Riddle believes have helped raise the reputation of the program.
“We’re losing some top players but at the same time, because of the elevation of the program’s reputation, with the results we’ve been getting, especially in the last two seasons, we’re now able to recruit a higher level of players as well,” Riddle said.
Barring an at-large selection to the NCAA Tournament, Buffalo will say goodbye to seven players: Russell Cicerone, Daniel Cramarossa, Braden Scales, Steven Stryker, Austin Place, Braden Culver and Alex Fisher, who will all leave a legacy behind.
“It’s gonna be very, very strange not having them around anymore and they’re gonna be extremely hard to replace,” Riddle said. “But we’ve got to go ahead and find ways to make that happen, we don’t want to take this program backwards we want to keep moving it forward. “
After Buffalo fell behind 2-0 in the second half, Cicerone outran several defenders down the right flank and found the bottom left corner of the net in the 63rd minute. Following the goal, Riddle says he felt the sense that several Akron players were beginning to panic and went on the attack. From there, Buffalo had several good looks at the goal but could not convert.
“Braden Culver had a great chance for us, Rikard Lindqvist had a great chance for the equalizer, Scott Doney had a great chance and if you don’t take those chances you’re not gonna win big games, so the chances were there we just didn’t take them,” Riddle said.
It is possible that Buffalo can still qualify for the NCAA Tournament with an at-large bid, but Riddle did not seem optimistic about the team’s chances after the match.
“I would have felt better if we’d got a result today,” Riddle said. “Stranger things have happened, there’s a lot of people lobbying for us, the Akron coach just put a Tweet out saying he thinks we deserve to be in there. But it’s down to the committee and I hope they look at the body of work of the season and how many games we had to play on the road.”
If this is how Buffalo’s season ends, Riddle is proud of the way his team fought this year. They set several program records and finished with 12 wins.
“We’re happy with the progress, we set out in January to win the Championship and we put ourselves in that position to try and go and win it,” Riddle said. “We set a multitude of school records in shutouts, individual goals per game and team goals per game… we won 12 games and I think we’re gonna be reasonably happy with how it’s been.”
Despite graduating some of the greatest players in program history, Riddle is very happy with the progress his team has made and feels Buffalo has established itself and now must raise the bar going forward.
Michael Akelson is the senior sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org