setting the stage
Losing only three starters from a team that brought the Merrimack College men's soccer program to a second consecutive Division II Men's Soccer NCAA Championship, the Warriors returned to campus in August focused on making another deep postseason run this fall. The Navy and Gold brought back eight starters as they began preseason play in August, beginning the year as the No. 19 team nationwide according to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA).
Led by senior captains Joseph Briers, Oscar Zepeda Cagide and Connor O'Brien, Merrimack was selected to finish third in the Northeast-10 Conference Preseason Coaches' Poll after the program's second-place finish in 2015. The Warriors faced a 17-game slate that included hosting the Merrimack Kickoff Classic as well as a third straight trip to the Purple Knight Classic, hosted by the University of Bridgeport.
For the second straight season, the Warriors got off to a scorching-hot start, suffering just one loss during the month of September. The season started with a pair of victories in the Merrimack Kickoff Classic over Caldwell and Post University. The Warriors potted five goals against Cougars while Josue Ruiz Maya netted the game-winning goal in overtime vs. Post.
Despite suffering a loss to No. 8 LIU Post, the Warriors responded with six straight wins, including a 5-0 start to NE10 play. The Navy and Gold outscored their opponents by an 11-3 margin during their season-long six-game winning streak, capped off by a 3-0 shutout of the College of Saint Rose to end the month.
October Clean Sheets
Sophomore goalkeeper Tyler Packett took hold of the starting job after a few games into the season and never looked back. He excelled particularly in the month of October, with four of Merrimack's five victories coming via shutout. He recorded 16 saves over those four games including a career high of five against Assumption. Packet was named NE10 Goalkeeper of the Week following the final week of the regular season, when he collected two wins against Saint Anselm and Saint Michael's
The second month of the regular season also featured offensive accodles. Sophomore midfielder Lars Sund enjoyed a breakout second season that included a five-point performance against Southern Connecticut as part of Merrimack's four-nil win over the Owls. Sund was named NE10 Player of the Week for his efforts.
Jaime Cortes Torres, who stepped into Merrimack's starting striker role, joined Packett in headlining the aforementioned Assumption victory. He attempted a career-high nine shots before finally netting the game-winner in overtime, the only goal scored between the local rivals.
Before Merrimack faced Saint Michael's in its regular-season home finale, the program honored its 10-player senior class. For the first time in their careers, the 10 field players started as a unit playing together for the first 20 minutes of the opening half. The group featured Alexander Alleyne (Swampscott, Mass.), Joseph Briers (Nottingham, England), Jaime Cortes Torres (Seville, Spain), Philippe Jean-Baptiste (Worcester, Mass.), Will Marcal (Milford, Mass.), Gunnar McCaig (Carver, Mass.), Connor O'Brien (Sandwich, Mass.), Josue Ruiz Maya (Madero, Mexico), Ryan Wine (New Braintree, Mass.), Oscar Zepeda Cagide (Jalisco, Mexico).
The Warriors finished the regular season with a 13-4 overall record, including a program-record tying 10 NE10 victories.
Six Warriors earned NE10 All-Conference accolades including one first-team selection, three second-team honors and two third-team members. Sund headlined the group by landing on the NE10 First Team as a midfielder. The sophomore posted career highs in goals (5), assists (8) and points (18).
Center backs Joseph Briers and Josue Ruiz Maya, as well as Cortes Torres, landed on the second team. Briers - an All-American as a junior - earned all-league honors after playing only 11 regular-season games due to injury. Ruiz Maya returned from an injury of his own, missing all of last season, starting in all 21 games and recording seven points. Cortes Torres posted 14 points on six goals and two assists while missing only one game due to yellow-card accumulation.
Rounding out the group, Juan Meza and Zepeda Cagide earned third-team recognition. For Meza, it marked his third straight season with an all-league honor while Zepeda Cagide came on strong to pick up his first-ever all-conference honor.
The Navy and Gold hosted the seventh-seeded American International Yellow Jackets in the NE10 Quarterfinals, and for the second straight campaign, pitched a 2-0 shutout to advanace to the semifinals. Briers picked up the eventual game-winning goal in the 13th minute, while Cortes Torres netted an insurance marker.
The Warriors also hosted the semifinal round, with third-seeded Le Moyne College coming to campus. The Dolphins took a 1-0 lead before Zepeda Cagide squared the score in the second half. The visitors were able to pull ahead, however, in the final 10 mintues to leave Martone-Mejail Field with a 2-1 win.
back to the ncaa tournament
Regionally ranked for the entire season, the Warriors earned the third straight NCAA Touranment bid and fourth overall in the last five years. Merrimack was the fifth seed in the East Region facing a matchup with fourth-seeded Franklin Pierce in the opening round. The first-round pod was hosted by LIU Post, the top-seeded team and undefeated East Coast Conference Champions. The Pioneers also entered the tournament as the top-ranked team in the nation.
For awhile it appeared the Warriors would move on with ease to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, as Alleyne and Sund struck first-half goals to put the Navy and Gold ahead by two. Franklin Pierce responded, however, scoring twice in the second half including an 81st-minute equalizer to send the to overtime.
Nearing the end of the first ten minutes, Merrimack attempted a corner kick that sailed towards an unmarked Juan Meza, whose header was saved. The ball then deflected off the keeper's outstretched hand and off the post, directly to freshman Aasmund Joedahl, who scored the game-winning goal.
The win put the Warriors on a collision course with the top-ranked team in the nation. Merrimack nearly avenged its regular-season defeat, with Connor O'Brien narrowly missing on putting the Warriors in front in the first minutes of the game. LIU Post converted on a penalty kick in the first half, which proved to be the game-winner. The Warriors had a pair of second-half goals called back due to offsides, and their season came to a close after a 15-win campaign.
All-American // All-Region
For the third straight season, the Warriors boasted a NSCAA All-American, with Lars Sund earning the distinction. The sophomore standout was a third-team selection after his 18-point campaign. Sund's eight assists marked the fifth most in the conference, and he was one-goal shy of tying for the team lead.
Sund was also a NSCAA All-East Region First Team selection, while he was Merrimack's lone representative on the D2CCA All-Region squads, earning second-team distinction there. Briers' season ended with NSCAA All-East Region Second Team honors. He finished the season with five points and orchestrated a backline that allowed less than a goal per game for all four of his years on campus. Zepeda Cagide continued a year of firsts with his debut all-region distinction. His four-goal, eight-point performance over 21 games gave the central midfielder 26 career points.
As much success that the program had on the field in 2016, various members of the Warriors shined off it as well. Cortes Torres headlined the group, as he became the program's third-ever CoSIDA Academic All-American honoree. The third-year forward landed on the third team after registering a 3.98 cumulative grade-point-average. Cortes Torres transferred to Merrimack after one year at West Virginia Tech, and will graduate this December after only five semesters on campus.
In order to earn the All-American recognition, Cortes Torres was one of three Warriors who were named CoSIDA Academic All-District recipients. Sund and junior left back Mattia Lanzi also were named to the squad with 3.49 and 3.61 GPAs, respectively. Merrimack earned a region-high three all-district selections.