ESSEX — Having a fire lit under them from last season’s national championship loss, the Community College of Baltimore County Essex men's soccer team, which returned several starters, rose to No. 1 in the nation and seemed to be in a good position to perform well at this season’s NJCAA Division II Men’s Soccer Championship. For most of the tournament, the Knights hardly gave up any goals, and it seemed like all was going their way, that is, until the final against Pima Community College.

Despite prolonged periods of possession and intense pressure on the Aztec’s half of the field, and even far outshooting them, the Knights struggled to capitalize on goal-scoring opportunities and ended up tying with the Aztecs 2-2 at the end of regulation.

Still tied after two extra-time periods, the game went to a penalty-kick shootout to decide the win, and the Knights lost on penalties.

“It was hard to lose, but we gave our best and showed what we had,” sophomore defensive back Kota Tsuchisawa said. “It was an unforgettable, unbelievable season, and we worked hard to get as far as we did.”

“I am not that upset that we lost; to make it to the national final two years in a row is a huge accomplishment,” sophomore midfielder Andy Portillo said. “Even though we did not win, I am proud of the team and feel like we owned up to that “No. 1 in the nation” name.”

Coach Joe Fiedler also said that he was not at all unhappy with how his team played in the tournament, including in the final.

“Although we would have rather won the trophy, the guys gave it their all and showed heart, and that is all I can ask for,” Fiedler said, adding that the team remained energized and had a laser-like focus throughout, even after giving up a goal only minutes into the final.

“The greatest thing about this team is that the players work hard and act professionally,” Fiedler said, “and that maturity has paid off.”

Fiedler said that he hopes to field another great team next year, and that he already has good, talented freshmen – he just needs to add to it.

Tsuchisawa and Portillo, who are both graduating from CCBC Essex, said that they would miss playing with the Knights and are exploring recruiting opportunities at universities.

“This team is like my second family,” Portillo said. “Playing for the Knights has made me a better player and person overall, and I will miss the relationships that I gained.”

NJCAA Division II Men’s Soccer Championship All-Tournament Team

Ethan Stewart

Marvin Martinez

Toga Katsuma

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