Goalie Matt Darling of the Men's Soccer Team. (Photo by Matt Milless)

MSMC Knights: Work Hard, Play Hard

by John Buckridge

Year after year, collegiate sports teams have to replace graduating seniors. The Mount Saint Mary College men’s soccer team is going to have a tough time replacing Matt Darling.  Darling, mainstay between the posts for the Knights for the past four years, has become one of the most valued players on his team.

Darling has been playing soccer for over 15 years of his life, starting at the age of 5 in Hyde Park’s recreational league. As a teenager, Darling not only played soccer for his high school team, but tried obtaining as much experience as he could by participating in travel and club leagues as well. At Franklin D. Roosevelt High School, Darling also played baseball and ran track at the junior varsity level, but he always knew he would continue playing soccer beyond high school.

Darling explains, “There was never any other sport for me; soccer has always been my favorite and I’ve always been good at it.  Playing soccer in college was an easy decision for me.”

On what he enjoys most about playing goalie, Darling explains how he loves watching the whole field and being able to see everything. Also he recognizes the weight a goalie carries on his shoulders:

“I thrive on the responsibility and importance of the position and love playing against good offenses because I see more action and more shots on goal obviously. I love the pressure in big games.”

Darling ended up a Knight somewhat by accident; recruiters from MSMC attended a game at Arlington High School looking at players from the Arlington squad, when suddenly their attention was turned towards the visiting school’s goalie, Matt Darling. Even though Darling’s team lost, he recorded an outstanding 25 saves over the course of the game, and was asked to come to MSMC by former assistant coach, Dave Myers.

Darling’s impressive freshman year in the net proved right from the start that he could handle that kind of pressure. While sharing some time with two other goalies, Darling started 12 times. He started all 9 conference games, allowing only ten goals and recorded a high save percentage of 85.1%. Darling stood out enough that first year to earn a spot on the Skyline Conference Second Team. He was concerned about more than just individual honors, though.

“It was important to me that I got off to a strong start my first year, but it was more important to me to win”, says Darling.  “I was happy about my individual performance, but I was more disappointed that we did not make the playoffs.”

Darling had won the starting job as goalie with the impression he made as a freshman, and earned a start in all 20 games the following season. During his sophomore year, Darling recorded 7 shutouts, a new school record, while also boasting 106 saves and a 77.9% save percentage.

“I had no idea what the record was or that I was even close to it until my dad looked it up on his own and told me,” Darling reflects. “He tends to get into it a lot.”

As a junior, Darling not only started every game again, but played every minute of the season. Darling enjoyed the responsibility put on him and liked that his coach and teammates trusted him to be in the net. He was named Skyline Player of the Week, ECAC Metro Region Player of the Week, and made the Skyline Honor Roll, all in October of that season. Darling finished the season 47th nationally in total saves with 101 and once again tied his record, recording 7 shutouts.

“I don’t really focus on or concern myself with things like that”, says Darling about tying his own school record.  “I’m more concerned with winning a conference title.”

The 2013 season was Darling’s last chance for that conference title and the Knights felt they had the right team to do it this time. Darling showed that his senior season would be no different than any other as he, for the third consecutive time, recorded seven shutouts again tying his own mark. He put up his second-highest save percentage at 84.7% and his second-highest save total with 105. His best ever win-loss record of 11-4 was good enough to put the Knights in the playoffs as the third seed.

Darling hit a speed bump during the final regular season game, though. He was red-carded for the first time in his life when he accidentally slide- tackled an opponent on a break-away. Being red-carded meant that not only would Darling be taken out of the current game, but that he would also miss the entire next game—the divisional round of the playoffs. Starting the playoffs without their talented starting goalie, grounded the Knights’ once-high hopes for a title run.

Although it was a big blow to Darling, he found a way to help the team win anyway without playing. He spent extra time that week working with and mentoring his back-up, freshman goalie Tyler Biscone, who, with Darling’s tutelage, filled in nicely for him in the divisional playoff game. The Knights won, 7-1.

“It was weird not having any control or being able to effect the game at all”, says Darling. “But I was just glad we won.”

Darling returned to action for the semi-finals at Purchase College against the Panthers, where he and opposing goalkeeper, Esteban Aguilar, forced a 0-0 tie until the end of regulation. Darling and teammate Christian Redl played the heroes: Darling had a key save late in the shootout, allowing Redl to kick the game-winning goal. The Knights 8-7 win in penalty kicks propelled them to the conference finals where Darling was one win away from his goal.

Darling went into the championship game against the Farmingdale Rams with the same calm and relaxed demeanor he has had for any other game.

“I was pretty confident and actually not nervous at all”, Darling explains. “I knew that we had the better team.”

The game proved to be a nail-biter as the Rams tied the score at 1-1 at the start of the second half. But when teammate Michael Ennis scored the go-ahead goal with just 57 seconds remaining, Darling raced down the field. He and his teammates swarmed Ennis in celebration, and the Knights finally won their championship.

“It felt amazing to finally win a conference championship, especially since I thought we had no shot our freshman year”, says Darling. “It just shows the hard work put in by that core group of guys we had from the beginning.”

Now that his college soccer days are officially over, Darling looks back on the camaraderie and closeness of his team, and says that is what he will miss the most. He looks ahead to the future and graduating this May with a 3.4 GPA. Darling chose to study mathematics and education, because he likes working with kids and says he wants to help the inner-city education system, which he feels needs the help. Darling admits trying to manage soccer his junior year along with his student-teaching program was extremely difficult, but he was able to persevere with the same poise he shows on the field.

“Besides the student-teaching portion, I actually found it easier to handle soccer and school work because being so busy kept me moving and kept me motivated”, Darling says.

Darling has made the decision to return to the Mount next semester to complete his master’s program. After his schooling, Darling wants to fulfill his ultimate goal of becoming a 4th-grade elementary-school teacher. He will without a doubt implement the motto he used for soccer, to become an even more successful teacher:

“Hard work pays off.”