MEDFORD – The Tufts University men's soccer team advanced to the NCAA "Final Four" after defeating Montclair State University 4-0 on Sunday afternoon at Bello Field on the strength of four first half-goals in an Elite 8 contest. This will be the third time in the program's history that the Jumbos will appear in the Final Four.
Tufts will take on Rochester (N.Y.) in the national semi-finals on Friday, November 30 in Greensboro, North Carolina. Head coach Josh Shapiro's Jumbos will be competing for their third NCAA Championship, after earning national titles in 2014 and 2016.
Today, Tufts (16-0-3) came out aggressive early pushing the ball down the field against a Montclair State (18-2-4) team that was averaging nearly four goals per contest. Jumbo junior midfielder Brett Rojas took the first shot of the game in the first minute that went just left of the goal. The Red Hawks came down the field five minutes later and earned a corner kick, which senior forward Rafael Terci serviced onto the foot of senior midfielder Jake Seaman. Tufts senior goalie Conner Mieth made a great play on the ball for a save.
The Jumbos started their first-half onslaught in the eighth minute when Rojas won a ball from a Monclair defender and dished it nicely over to junior forward Joe Braun on the right. He put a low shot past Red Hawk senior goalie Mike Saalfrank to put Tufts up 1-0. The goal was Braun's team-leading ninth this year while Rojas picked up his eighth assist.
Montclair State midfielder Anthony Pelaez fired a shot from near the middle of the field that was saved by Mieth in the ninth minute as the Red Hawks quickly looked to even the score up. The Jumbo offense after the Pelaez shot continued to attack the Red Hawks' defense as they created two corner kick opportunities over the next five minutes.
The brown and blue would extend the lead to 2-0 in the 16th minute when Rojas recovered after slipping at the top of the box and sent the ball over to a running junior midfielder Gavin Tasker on the left side. His shot deflected off Saalfrank and into the goal in the 16th minute for his sixth of the year and second in NCAA play. Rojas dished out his second assist in as many goals, as well as his ninth assist on the year.
The Jumbo offense had found its rhythm and continued to dominate the time of possession. In the 20th minute, after a throw-in Tasker ping-ponged a pass through to sophomore midfielder Travis Van Brewer who stuck his shot inside the left post past Saalfrank to push the Jumbo lead to 3-0. Van Brewer netted his third goal this year and Tasker tallied his third assist.
Rojas came back down the field 18 seconds later and put a shot on goal that was stopped by Saalfrank. Red Hawks junior midfielder Jose Huerta had a good look in the 22nd minute that went just left of the goal. Tufts freshman midfielder Zachary Seigelstein put another Jumbo shot on goal from the middle of the field in the 28th minute that was saved by Saalfrank.
Tufts scored what would be the game's final goal in the 33rd minute when sophomore Mati Cano ran up on a long ball just outside the box, sent it in to sophomore forward Max Jacobs who passed it on to a sophomore Derek Enge in stride and he deposited his first career goal. The assist was also Jacobs' first-ever helper.
In the first half, Tufts outshot Montclair State 16 (eight on goal) to four (two on goal). Saalfrank recorded four first-half saves while Mieth stopped both Red Hawks shots. Tufts created two corner kick opportunities to Montclair State's one.
The Red Hawks came out of halftime looking to cut into the Jumbo lead as they recorded the first shot on goal of the half when Terci fired one in on Mieth that was saved in the 57th minute. Three minutes later, Huerta also put a shot on goal from the right side that was stopped by Mieth. As the half played out, the Jumbos maintained more possession time and the defense was able to blank the Montclair team for the first time this season.
For the game, Tufts outshot Montclair State 21 (eight on goal) to 12 (six on goal). Mieth had a game-high five saves while Saalfrank had four. Tufts sophomore goalie Will Harned entered with 21 minutes remaining in regulation and recorded a save. The Jumbos generated six corner kicks to three by the Red Hawks. Rojas attempted a game-high two shots on goal.
The four goals today were the most for Tufts in NCAA play since their 4-2 victory against Wheaton (Ill.) in the 2014 NCAA Championship game. This was the Jumbos' fourth consecutive shutout and 12th this season. In the NCAA Tournament this fall they have now outscored three opponents 8-0.
Written By Athletic Communications Intern Bryan Costello
Watch Tufts' four first-half goals ...