‘Battling and Surviving’: Boys Soccer Defeats Elizabeth to Advance to UCT Finals

Matthew Levine, Editor in Chief

“It’s [about] battling and surviving.” 

 

That’s how senior captain Ethan Koseoglu summed up the Raiders 1-0 victory Saturday, Oct. 23 against rival Elizabeth Minutemen in the Union County Tournament semifinals. 

 

The Raiders scored the lone goal of the game in the final minutes of the first half off of a penalty kick drawn and subsequently scored by junior Dylan Fei. 

 

“My mind was definitely [filled with] a lot of chaos, but somehow I found a little bit of calm in there and put it away,” Fei said. 

We’ve just been warriors, we’ve had that hunger, we’ve had the heart, and we’ve had the mentality to get us through. We’ve just been relentless in every aspect of our game and today was really that.”

— Graham Kois

Since the Raiders lost to Westfield on Sept. 30 — a loss that forced Koseoglu and the Raiders to look within themselves — the Raiders have won seven straight games. 

 

“After that Westfield loss, we really took it to heart,” Koseoglu said. “We flipped it around and we’re taking the right steps. I love the group of guys who’ve come together, such a positive group, such a good group to play with. I’m so happy, I’ve always wanted to play a championship game and now I have my dream and I wouldn’t want it with anybody else.”

 

With the win, the Raiders have booked their spot in the county finals at Arthur L. Johnson in Clark next Saturday, Oct. 30 at 6:30 p.m. 

 

While this hasn’t been the Raiders’ finest season, starting 4-3-2 in their first nine games and struggling to gain momentum, this win follows a common theme of their season — grinding out wins despite them occasionally being… ugly. 

 

And today was one of those days. 

 

“Honestly, it was not a good performance,” head coach Alex Passucci said. “Elizabeth had a lot to do with it but it just was not one of our best games. We’ll take it, soccer is sometimes like that.” 

After that Westfield loss, we really took it to heart. We flipped it around and we’re taking the right steps. I love the group of guys who’ve come together, such a positive group, such a good group to play with. I’m so happy, I’ve always wanted to play a championship game and now I have my dream and I wouldn’t want it with anybody else.”

— Ethan Koseoglu

Elizabeth star midfielder Matthew Giraldo left the game with a lower leg injury in the first six minutes of the game and never returned. His absence made things easier on the Raiders backline, but they were still tested many times throughout the second half. The biggest test came with less than three minutes remaining in the second half on a nearpost kicksave by sophomore keeper Graham Kois off a shot by senior Judsen Cajuste. 

 

“I had a lot to do today and that capped it all off, it was a big performance from the lads tonight,” Kois said. “I had a lot to do, but nothing of that magnitude so it was good to get that. I felt like that just kind of kept us in the game and that was a big moment.” 

 

Despite not being at 100 percent, Fei brings elite speed and playmaking to every part of the field. He is a versatile player that Passucci moves around depending on the flow of the game. 

 

“Right now, I’m not 100 percent so I’ve been injured for a little bit,” Fei said. “I’m still contributing in every way that I can. It felt great to step on the field again, any contribution makes me feel like we really are a team.” 

 

The Raiders have a lot to feel good about, as they look to win their first county championship since the  fall 2015 season in Saturday’s matchup against archirival Westfield. While failing to play their best, the Raiders have done what all championship teams must do — battle adversity and find ways to win. 

 

They are a hungry team that has hit their stride at the perfect time. 

 

“We’ve just been warriors, we’ve had that hunger, we’ve had the heart, and we’ve had the mentality to get us through,” Kois said. “We’ve just been relentless in every aspect of our game and today was really that.”