The clock struck midnight for UMBC and Providence on Friday in the semifianls of the College Cup as traditional powerhouses Virginia and UCLA did the things they needed to do to prevail over the new kids on the block and advance to face each other on Sunday at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina with the National Championship on the line. However both UMBC and Providence acquitted themselves well and reaffirmed that they belonged to be in the College Cup.
Virginia 1 – UMBC 0 – Live by the sword, die by the sword. Virginia and UMBC both advanced to the College Cup by virtue of strong defensive schemes that featured a lot of defenders behind the ball with a focus on countering attacking when the opportunity presented itself.
Going into this one it appeared likely that it would be a low scoring affair and the team that scored first would likely prevail. It was and it did. The teams stayed on script and it was advantage Virginia when in just the fifth minute of play redshirt freshman midfielder Pablo Aguilar dislodged a ball from a Retriever defender forty yards out and played a through ball to a wide open junior forward Darius Madison who decisively placed a shot inside the far past going from right to left. The goal was Madison's fourth of the 2014 season and was without a doubt his biggest goal of the year. A case could be made that Aguilar committed a foul in the process of creating the turnover that set up the goal but no whistle was forthcoming. Aguilar stated, "It was a pass back to the center back, and I knew I was close enough to take it away from him." He added, "He had a bad touch. I took it from him. I saw Darius wide open. I gave it to him, and Darius did great in finishing."
UMBC had to chase from that point forward and picked up the pace significantly in the second half pressing the attack trying to find the equalizer by pushing the ball out wide to switch the point of attack and then crossing it into the middle to try to find a gap in the Virginia defense but a sagged in and relentless Virginia defense anchored by backs Matt Brown, Scott Thomsen, Kyler Sullivan, and Sheldon Sullivan kept the Retriever attack led by Kay Banjo in check.
Virginia got the best of the run of play in the early going but for the majority of the game and particularly in the second half UMBC had the majority of possession. However, Virginia did an excellent job of closing down the passing lanes and getting numbers behind the ball which significantly impacted UMBC's effectiveness in the attacking third. Banjo pretty much summed things up for the Retrievers when he stated, "We had opportunities. We just didn't put them away."
Madison's game winning goal in what was clearly his best performance of the 2014 season was the first allowed by UMBC in the last 793 minutes of play and the only goal they allowed in their five games in the NCAA Tourney. UMBC had a nine to two advantage in corner kicks for the game and a five to three edge in shots. Both teams had only one shot on goal with Virginia converting theirs for the difference maker.
UMBC finished the best season in the history of the program with a 14-5-5 overall record. Also credit the Retriever fan base with an impressive turnout to support their school. UMBC head coach Pete Caring stated, "That was an amazing crowd" He added, "The whole town got behind us. Their enthusiasm says a lot about the school. It was an amazing run with an amazing group of players."
Virginia playing with a 4-4-2 formation stuck with the game plan that has worked so well for them in prior wins over UNCW, number one seed Notre Dame, and number eight seed Georgetown. The Cavaliers recorded their tenth shutout of the season to improve to 13-6-3. Virginia head coach George Gelnovatch stated, "My hat's off to UMBC. They are a very, very, good team and they played exceptionally well tonight. I do think we got our tactics right tonight and executed the game plan and put ourselves in a good situation to compete for a national championship." Gelnovatch also stated, Our center backs have been great, our fullbacks have been great, but I think it's a team mentality too, a team mentality of not conceding. We're just very, very resolute."
Number sixteen seed Virginia, who last won the national championship in 2009 in a game that was also played at WakeMed Soccer Park, will again have an opportunity to show their resolve when they tangle with number two seed UCLA on Sunday at noon. The contest will be televised live on ESPNU.
UCLA 3 – Providence 1 (OT) – This back and forth contest before a crowd of 9,502 fans was a nail biter and was not decided until the second overtime period when Bruin freshman defender Chase Gasper provided the heroics when he nailed a shot that deflected off a defender and into the net in the 105th minute of play to send UCLA to the championship match on Sunday and to end an historic season for Providence College. The game winning goal came out of a corner kick served in by Leo Stolz that was headed out to the top of the penalty area where Gasper alertly sent it back toward the frame.
UCLA scored the first goal of the evening with time in the first half winding down when Leo Stolz put in play a throw-in to Abu Danladi who controlled it and pushed the ball down the right side of the field before sending a cross into Larry Ndjock who sent a rebound into the back of the net after his initial attempt on goal was stopped by Providence netminder Keasel Broome. The goal was Ndjock's sixth of the 2014 season and it gave the Bruins a 1-0 advantage going into intermission.
Providence came out of the break firing on all cylinders and knotted the score at 1-1 when in the 65th minute of play sophomore forward Mac Steeves drove a header into the top of the net from close range after receiving a cross from senior defender Thomas Ballenthin.
Providence took a 2-1 lead ten minutes later and a ton of momentum when Steeves skillfully controlled and volleyed a deflection into the far side of the net from around six yards out with Ballenthin again providing the assist with a nice cross. The goal was Steeves eleventh of the season and it marked Ballenthin's fourth assist in the last four contests.
UCLA picked up the offense sending more players forward and they were rewarded for it in the 81st minute when Ndjock scored his second goal of the evening off a header from inside the six yard box that was set up by a run down the right side of the pitch by sophomore midfielder Brian Iloski who sent a pass to Danladi who then sent a cross that was deflected to the far post to set up Ndjock's header to the opposite post.
Neither team scored during the remainder of regulation or during the first overtime period which lead to Gasper's game-winner in the second overtime period.
Providence ends a banner season with a 16-5-2 overall record and a very promising future. Friar head coach Craig Stewart stated, "Right now we are very disappointed not to be playing on Sunday. He added, "I thought we were excellent and I couldn't be more proud of the team. We didn't get a few breaks our way, and that's football."
The Bruins are now 14-4-5 and advance to face a very determined University of Virginia team at noon on Sunday for the national championship. Virginia has advanced by executing a very disciplined game plan to perfection in wins to date over UNCW, Notre Dame, Georgetown and UMBC.
UCLA has had difficulty putting together a full ninety minutes of play in their four tournament wins over San Diego, California, North Carolina and Providence but to their credit they have found a way to win.
Bruin head coach Jorge Salcedo accurately summed things up when he stated, "Tonight's match was a microcosm of basically what our postseason has been like. We had some moments of real quality and we had some moments with some difficulties in the match, but I attribute the challenging moments that we had to the quality of the opponent that we had."
Salcedo added, "I expect the championship, the national final against Virginia, to be a fantastic soccer game."