COLUMBIA, Mo. — University of Rio Grande freshman forward Gabriel Silva finished regular season play as the RedStorm’s leading goal scorer with 16.
Thus, the Sao Luis, Brazil native was recognized last weekend by the River States Conference with both its Offensive Player of the Year and Newcomer of the Year honors.
But without question, Silva’s 17th goal of the season was his biggest to date.
Silva lofted a bicycle kick over the head of Northwestern (Iowa) College net-minder Ezekiel Foltz with 1:52 remaining in overtime to give Rio Grande a 1-0 victory over the Red Raiders in the Columbia-CMU Bracket of the NAIA Men’s Soccer Championship Opening Round, Thursday night, at Muriel Williams Battle High School.
The RedStorm, ranked No. 13 in the most recent NAIA coaches’ poll and the No. 2 seed in the four-team bracket, improved to 17-2-1 overall with their 14th consecutive win and extended their unbeaten streak to 15 straight outings.
Head coach Scott Morrissey’s squad also advanced to Saturday’s bracket final against top-seeded, top-ranked and unbeaten Central Methodist (Mo.) University.
The Eagles improved to 20-0 by ousting fourth-seeded Tabor (Kan.), 4-0, in Thursday’s other contest.
The winner of Saturday’s title game, which is scheduled for a 2 p.m. EST kickoff, moves on to the tourney’s final site, Nov. 30-Dec. 6, in Decatur, Ala.
Northwestern, which was ranked No. 20 and seeded third in the bracket, finished its season at 16-4-1.
Silva’s game-winning score, which came off of a touch at the top of 18-yard box from sophomore Diego Montenegro (Santiago, Chile), finally got Rio on the scoreboard in a game it dominated most of the night.
The RedStorm finished with a 28-7 edge in shots overall and an 11-0 advantage in shots on frame.
“I really thought we played very well, especially in the second half,” said Morrissey. “We created a number of quality chances, but the final product in front of the goal was not there most of the night.”
Rio outshot the Red Raiders 18-2 after the intermission and 6-1 in the extra session, while also having 10 of the 11 corner kick opportunities in the contest.
Fultz finished with 10 saves in goal for Northwestern, many of which were highlight worthy.
“I thought their keeper played an outstanding game,” Morrissey added. “I was happy with the chances we created, we just needed to finish on a few more of them.”
Freshman goalie Daniel Merino Correa (Madrid, Spain) did not have a save en route to an 11th clean sheet of the season for the RedStorm.
The only negative to the win for Rio Grande came late in regulation when senior midfielder Caio Mazzo Nogueira (Sao Paulo, Brazil) suffered an apparent leg injury and had to be carried off the pitch.
His status for Saturday’s match remains unclear.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.