For the Fairfield men’s soccer team the entire 2006 season was based around one goal: to win the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship.

On Sunday, on their home field, the Stags accomplished that goal by defeating St. Peter’s 1-0.

Senior captain Mike Troy scored the lone goal for the Stags off a tip from fellow senior Alex Cunliffe.

Cunliffe was named the Most Valuable Player of the tournament following the game. Joining Cunliffe on the All-Tournament team were Troy, Tom Skara `08 and Sam Bailey `08.

Bailey, whose two goals powered Fairfield to a 3-0 win over Loyola in the semifinals on Thursday night, said that the win was huge for the team and the entire school.

“It’s great to see the result come through for everyone, all the seniors, the coaching staff, and the entire school,” he said.

Last season the Stags fell to Marist 2-1 in the MAAC championship game, which was also played at Lessing Field.

The Stags’ key players, especially Troy and Cunliffe, returned for the 2006 season looking to get back to the championship and this time, make sure that they win.

“From the moment we got to the preseason, throughout the entire season everyone has been working hard,” Cunliffe said. “To lose 2-1 on our home field last season was tough and we did not want it to happen again . . . We all worked to get back to this point and it’s a fantastic result for us.”

Head Coach Carl Rees agreed with Cunliffe, saying, “This has been four years coming for [the seniors], coming so close, yet so far last year, that has been in the back of our minds. You have to give credit to these guys, they have battled all year and you don’t see the hard work they have put in, led by Cunliffe and Troy.”

Rees contributed a good portion of the win to team dynamics. “What makes a difference is the personality of the group, and this team was determined, focused, and committed all season,” Rees added.

The Stags and Peacocks played a back and forth first half, with neither team taking advantage. Both teams had goals waved off by offsides calls in the first 45 minutes. St. Peter’s’ chance came eight minutes into the game, as junior forward Juan Gaviria, the MAAC Offensive Player of the Year, seemingly put the Peacocks up 1-0.

However, the goal was called off because a St. Peter’s player was offsides.

With 16 minutes left in the half, it was the Stags’ turn to have a goal disallowed, as Cunliffe put the ball into the back of the net, only to have the played whistled dead due to an offsides call.

The celebrating fans soon realized that Fairfield had not taken the lead and the score remained at 0-0.

First half jitters may have prevented scoring in the second half, but both teams came out on all cylinders in the second half.

Just four minutes into the half, St. Peter’s sent a ball across the box that nearly hit the foot of Gaviria, who had an open net to shoot into, but the ball rolled out of bounds and out of danger.

The Stags’ goal came with 20 minutes left in the game.

After Christian Uy `10 was fouled near mid-field, defender Tom Clements `09 took a free kick that went into the box.

Cunliffe, who was being double teamed in the box, drew his defenders away from Troy and then managed to tip the ball to him.

Troy put the ball on net and it ended up in the back of the goal to put Fairfield on top 1-0. Troy sprinted down the field celebrating, before being mobbed by his team.

When asked to describe that moment, Troy said, “It was a lot of fun. We needed that one goal and knew that once we got ahead, we could win it.”

Cunliffe agreed saying, “The first goal was crucial and for the captain to score, it was fantastic for him and everyone around us.”

J.P. Francini, the Stags’ junior goalie, was pressured with just 56 seconds left in the game, as St. Peter’s forward Marco Orias broke towards the goal and put a shot high, that just missed a wide open net.

Francini picked up his second shut out of the playoffs and had three saves on the game.

The Stags were out-shot 12-8 by St. Peter’s and the defense, led by MAAC Defensive Player of the Year Tom Skara `08 and Francini were able to lock down and keep the ball out of the net for the second game in a row.

The Stags record now stands at 14-5-1 and they will be heading to the NCAA soccer tournament.

Cunliffe believes that the Stags’ will be looking to do more than just show up.

“We are not going to say that we are here to just make the first round, we are going to try and gain respect for the program and go as deep as we can,” he said. “Today we can celebrate, but tomorrow it is back to work for us.”

The Stags’ will find out where they are going and who they will be playing on Monday, when the NCAA selection committee decides the bracket.

It will be released at 4:00 PM and will be broadcasted live on ESPNews.

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