The Cinderella Soccer Team Wins ECC Title


The 2021 season for the Mercy Men’s Soccer team was not one many players within the program were too happy with. The Mavericks finished with a 9-5-2 record and didn’t qualify for an ECC Tournament bid, sending their graduating class off in disgruntlement, and leaving their returning members with only one question: How were they going to respond?

This was a different taste than Mercy soccer was used to. Some members were on the team for their 2019 ECC Championship win the previous season prior to the pandemic. Perhaps the winning culture was never gone, but rather just needed to be rediscovered.

A strong offseason plunged the Mavericks into their season with momentum, and it proved true throughout the regular season. Mercy corralled an impressive 11-2-4 regular season finish and rewrote their names into the ECC Tournament bracket.

The Mavs drew a first playoff matchup against No. 2 seed Queens College, who was the first to learn about this resilient squad. Queens approached victory with a leading goal scored in the 80th minute of play, but it was then that the magic began to happen.

With just over a minute to play, senior Vasco Baptista headed in the game-tying goal to send the playoff game to overtime. Within the first two minutes of extended play, sophomore Martin Penafiel was awarded a penalty kick and won the game for Mercy with a goal. 

A come-from-behind victory later, and the Mavericks had a championship matchup with the No. 1 seed Molloy Lions. Revenge was on the mind of the team, who had been beaten by Molloy 2-1 earlier in the season.

A tough regular season match led to an even grittier title game. But one thing stayed consistent: These Mavericks did not quit.

With just over a minute to go, Mercy trailed Molloy by a score of 1-0. It certainly appeared like the team was destined to see the Lions win back-to-back conference titles, until a young freshman from Argentina had other plans.

Driving down the field in crunch time, the Mavericks kept their foot on the gas till the final whistle. With numerous shot opportunities in the final minute, Mateo Bacigalupo received a long pass from teammate Carlos Fernandes toward the mouth of the net, and the rest is history. The freshman pulled the unthinkable, and sent the Mavs to overtime with a goal.

The game continued its high-caliber play in extended time, exceeding both overtime periods, and growing the suspense among the spectators at Molloy College. It would be at this point in the game that Mercy would make an unexpected lineup change. A lineup change that will be talked about at Mercy College for years to come.

With the ECC title up for grabs, freshman Simon Steffenson was chosen to come off the bench and defend the Mercy goal for the Mavericks as the two teams headed to penalty kicks to decide the conference champion. Both teams scored three times in their opening shots, waiting for either team to make a stop.

After scoring again to retake the lead 4-3, the Mavs looked to Steffenson for one big save. The freshman responded, delivering a “door shutting” save on Molloy’s J.P. Rodriguez. 

On the next play, senior David Breitenbach made sure Molloy wouldn’t have one last chance to respond, scoring on his penalty kick to win the championship for Mercy.

It would be Mercy’s second ECC Championship in three seasons, plunging them into the NCAA Tournament seeking one last piece of hardware: A National Championship.

The men’s team would be defeated in the second round by Davis & Elkins, but their accomplishments in 2022 would not be forgotten. The heart shown by this team when it mattered most is what every Mercy soccer player should hang their hat on entering next season.

When asking sophomore Martin Penafiel about what he hopes the team carries into 2023, he responded, “The most important part is maintaining our team chemistry…I think it was one of the major reasons for our success last year.”

Now as defending ECC Champions, the goal is a little bit different for the team this time around.

“We all have the same goal and that is to defend our conference title. We have great recruits coming in so we should continue on our path.”