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The University at Albany men’s soccer team won their first ever America East Championship against Hartford on Sunday at the Tom & Mary Casey Stadium with leading scorer Afonso Pinheiro scoring the only goal on a penalty kick with less than a minute on the clock.

“It’s the most amazing experience,” said Pinheiro, “we had to be patient, all the practice pays off.”  

UAlbany, undefeated at home this season, beat Vermont 2-0 this past Wednesday with goals from Pinheiro and Carlos Clarke. It could have turned out differently as with 17 seconds left in the first half Bernard Yeboah, Vermont’s top goal scorer, had a diving header which beat the goalkeeper but came back off the post. Just a minute later a long ball from UAlbany defender Bernardo Mattos found fellow Brazilian Pinheiro who lobed the ball over the onrushing goalkeeper for the opening goal of the game.

With 14 minutes played in the second half UAlbany almost doubled their lead but Vermont goalkeeper Aron Runarsson made a spectacular save on Nico Solabarrieta’s header and then stayed alert to block Clarke’s follow up shot.

Clarke would not be denied though and 13 minutes later he dribbled past three opponents before his low shot from outside the box was just out of the diving Runarsson’s reach for the game clinching goal. “Feels good to score goals always, probably the best goal I’ve scored so far,” said Clarke after the game.

With the win against Vermont in the Semi-Finals, the team moved on to play in Hartford in the finals this past Sunday.

Both UAlbany and Hartford came into the game on Sunday with a point to prove, Hartford had made the finals in three of the last four years but have not won the tournament since 1999. This was UAlbany’s first ever appearance in the America East Tournament final. Hartford had beaten top seeded Stony Brook 2-1 on Wednesday to qualify.

It was the hosts UAlbany who created the first chance nine minutes in when Moosah Khanat’s free-kick turned into a header for Pinheiro but Hartford goalkeeper Jimmy Slayton just managed to get his hand to the ball and push it over the bar for the save.

Slayton, who finished the game with eight saves, was in terrific form and denied Pinheiro again two minutes into the second half. The game was becoming physical with neither side giving an inch, twice there were flairups that led to UAlbany and Hartford players to getting tangled up.

With 30 minutes to go Solabarrieta won a free-kick 20 yards out for UAlbany and took it himself. Solabarrieta’s shot was well placed but Slayton made a diving save to push it out for a corner. Eight minutes later Pinheiro’s downward header was again well saved by Slayton.

With eighteen minutes left on the clock UAlbany carved out their best chance yet when Solabarrieta shot was deflected over Slayton, but Hartford defender Mike Barry managed to glance the ball off the post and back into play to keep the game scoreless.

With just two minutes left in the game midfielder Brynjar SteinÞórsson of UAlbany got into a great position, but his powerfully hit volley was once again denied by a great save from Slayton.

Less than a minute was left on the clock when Pinheiro skipped past his defender and ran into the Harford penalty box. Slayton, so often the hero for Hartford, made the mistake as his sliding challenge missed the ball and tripped the UAlbany striker. The referee immediately awarded UAlbany a penalty kick and showed Slayton a yellow card. Pinheiro picked himself up to confidently smash in the resulting kick and hand UAlbany the win.

“It’s fantastic, it’s always a goal at the start of the season” said Gorman after the game, “It was a really tough game for us. I am really happy and proud of the guys that we were able to come through it.”

It is unclear when UAlbany’s next game will occur as they are waiting on the NCAA tournament selection which takes place on Monday November 14 at 1 p.m.

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