To say the 2010 United States Merchant Marine Academy men's soccer team accomplished a lot this past season would be a vast understatement. Under the guidance of Head Coach Michael Smolens, who completed his 21st season with Kings Point, the Mariners reached the "Elite 8" round of the NCAA Division III Tournament, where they fell to the eventual champions Messiah College. From thrilling regular season battles and epic overtime playoff games to racking up individual accolades and making Academy history, USMMA did it all this year.
The Mariners kicked off the season with a 1-1 draw at home against Montclair State, who was nationally-ranked 19th in a preseason poll. Freshman forward Alex Maney (Ashburn, Va.) netted the first goal of his collegiate career and of the 2010 USMMA season to aid in the tie.
Kings Point then reeled off an impressive seven-straight victories, which included wins over nearby rival SUNY Maritime (2-1) and arch-rival Coast Guard (1-0). With the victory, Merchant Marine remained unbeaten versus Coast Guard since 1999. That seven-win drubbing was bookended by an exhilarating 3-2 double-overtime home triumph versus Manhattanville College. With 55 seconds remaining until a draw, sophomore back Kurt Olsen (Charlotte, N.C.) headed a pass from junior midfielder and co-captain Casey Desiderio (Media, Pa.) past the Valiants' goalkeeper to send USMMA sprinting onto the field with exuberance. The Mariners were 7-0-1 overall.
In an odd coincidence, the next four games all went to double-overtime. While the Mariners suffered its first loss of the season to eventual NCAA Tournament qualifier William Paterson, Kings Point battled fifth-ranked Stevens Institute of Technology to an impressive 1-1 tie. The goal USMMA scored was the first one Stevens allowed up to that point in the season.
Coach Smolens' team then closed out the season with three Landmark Conference matches: an important 1-0 win over first-place Susquehanna, a tough 2-0 loss to Drew and a smooth 4-0 victory over Goucher on Senior Day, where first classmen Dan Twito (Cedar Falls, Iowa) and co-captain Lane Gould (Greenville, Texas) were honored for their contributions to the soccer program.
The Mariners locked up the third-seed in the Landmark playoffs and traveled to Madison, N.J. to take on the second-seeded Drew Rangers. USMMA avenged their loss to Drew two weeks prior when junior forward Andrew MacKenzie (San Diego, Calif.) scored in the 87th minute of play to give Kings Point a 2-1 triumph.
USMMA wound up hosting the Landmark Conference Championship because fourth-seeded Catholic University upset top-seeded Susquehanna in the other semifinal contest. The Mariners and Cardinals fought to a double-overtime 1-1 draw and moved onto a penalty kick shootout to determine the league champion. Catholic won the shootout and took home the conference crown, however that was not the end of the 2010 Mariners' story.
The entire men's soccer team and coaching staff intently watched the NCAA Tournament selection show and erupted into cheers and jubilation when it was announced that USMMA had received an at-large bid for their efforts during the year. Merchant Marine's first game of the national tournament was against Kean University at NJIT.
Sophomore forward Cody Kessler (Delmar, N.Y.) and Twito found the back of the netting for the Mariners and that would be all they needed as USMMA defeated Kean, 2-0, in the opening round. SUNY Brockport awaited the next day for a second-round sparring.
This epic contest should be prefaced with a postgame quote from Coach Smolens, "This was the most exciting victory I've experienced in my 21 years here."
With Brockport ahead 2-1 in the 89th minute and Kings Point facing elimination, Olsen stepped up big time. The center back scored the exhilarating game-tying goal when he scored off a penalty kick, which was awarded to USMMA when junior defender Josh Reicks (Katy, Texas) was taken down in the box by Brockport's goalkeeper. Olsen injected Kings Point with a dose of life and catapulted the Mariners into overtime.
With two and a half minutes remaining in the first overtime period, Olsen played hero once again. Freshman defender Samuel Tubb (Alexandria, Va.) punched a corner kick towards the front of the goal, which Olsen then headed in past the goalie to complete the unbelievable comeback. Merchant Marine won 3-2 and advanced to the NCAA "Sweet 16" for the first time since 2002.
USMMA traveled to Muhlenberg, Pa. to square off against Muhlenberg College in the "Sweet 16" round and needed just one goal to edge past the Mules due to the stellar and non-porous Kings Point defense. Twito fired the ball into the back of the goal in the 19th minute for his fifth tally of the year as the Mariners locked up the win.
In what would be the final chapter of the 2010 USMMA men's soccer amazing and magical ride, Kings Point played Messiah College the next day in Muhlenberg and fell to the eventual national champions, 3-0. Messiah entered its match with Merchant Marine having won seven national titles in the last 11 years.
"The individual honors our players won are a reflection of the level of achievement our team reached this season. Coach Fitzgerald, Coach Sutton and I are very proud of the entire team and quality effort they put in every day both at training and in our matches. Everyone at the Academy was very excited to reach the "Elite 8" and we enjoyed our postseason run a great deal," Coach Smolens said. "Although we were disappointed to lose to Messiah, we all recognize what a tremendous achievement it was to advance that far and we'll cherish the memories of this historical season forever."