With four teams meeting at Lynn Family Stadium in Louisville, two spots in the College Cup Final were on the line. We now know the two teams that will be facing off for a National Championship on Monday, so let’s take a look at how the semifinals played out. By Brian Ludden
Semifinal One – West Virginia vs. Clemson
Clemson 1 – West Virginia 0
Making their College Cup debut, #5 overall seed West Virginia took on perennial contenders and ten-time College Cup participants, Clemson. One of the storylines heading into the match was the availability of West Virginia midfielder Luke McCormick. McCormick, a fifth year senior, scored the Mountaineers’ first goal in the quarterfinals vs. Loyola Marymount, but suffered an ankle injury later in the game. It was revealed prior to the start of the match that McCormick was out, leaving West Virginia without a player who had started all but three of their previous matches this season.
In terms of the match itself, West Virginia’s freshman Constantinos Christou had the first shot on target of the match, but Clemson keeper Joseph Andema made the simple save. It was Clemson who had the first clear cut chance of the match in the 20th minute, but Jackson Lee made an excellent kick save to prevent what would have been an own goal. Ten minutes later, West Virginia had another chance of their own to take the lead, but Sergio Ors Navarro’s shot was saved by Andema.
The breakthrough came for Clemson in the 37th minute, as a poor clearance from West Virginia allowed Mohamed Seye to flick a header into the path of Shawn Smart. Smart’s first-time volley off the bounce flew past Lee at the near post, giving Clemson a 1-0 lead at halftime.
Marcus Caldeira had a chance to pull West Virginia level shortly after the break in the 50th minute, but his tight-angle shot was pushed aside by Andema. Caldeira had an even better chance just eight minutes later, as he received a long ball into the box from Yutaro Tsukada, but his shot was just inches too high. West Virginia seemed to be in control and on the front foot for much of the second half, leading West Virginia head coach Dan Stratford to claim that his side were the better team.
Some controversy arose in the 78th minute as both Jake Ross and Tsukada went down in the box, resulting in desperate penalty shouts by West Virginia players. Giving his thoughts on the matter post-game, “I think the ref has missed a key, key moment,” Stratford explained. “There’s, in my opinion, quite a clear call that wasn’t made…it’s a penalty.” Unfortunately for Stratford and the Mountaineers, nothing was given, as the referee waved play on.
West Virginia was unable to generate any more clear-cut chances, and Clemson held on for a 1-0 victory and fourth consecutive clean sheet. Offering his take on Clemson’s defensive strengths, head coach Mike Noonan explained that, “Defending is not just goalkeeper and the defenders. And I think what we’ve done really well over the course of the tournament is we defend from the front, all the way to the back,” before going on to praise his forwards on their defensive efforts throughout the match.
West Virginia concludes an outstanding season during which they had a program best 17 wins and made their first ever appearance in the College Cup.
Clemson improves to 14-3-5 and advances to the national final where they will seek to secure the program’s fourth national championship and second under Noonan.
Semifinal Two – Oregon State vs. Notre Dame
Notre Dame 1- Oregon State 0
Although one of the main talking points of this game throughout the week was a reunion between former Notre Dame players-turned-coaches Chad Riley (Notre Dame) and Greg Dalby (Oregon State), it ended up taking a turn. It was revealed during the week that Oregon State had fielded an ineligible player in their 1-0 quarterfinal win over North Carolina, resulting in various suspensions. Javier Armas had picked up his 8th yellow card of the season in their round of 16 win over Oregon State and therefore should have sat out the North Carolina game. However, Armas played the full 90 and on Tuesday, Oregon State self-reported the violations. The NCAA handed out punishments on Thursday, resulting in a two-game suspension for Armas. Meanwhile, first year head coach Greg Dalby was suspended for four games.
Despite the absence of Armas and Dalby, Oregon State assistant coach Jarred Brookins stressed that he wanted to “keep the routine consistent” and that the mentality within the squad was good. The Beavers looked up to the task early on, and although the first 20 minutes were not up to par from a technical standpoint with poor giveaways and bad passes, things eventually settled down later on in the first half.
Fran Cortijo got the best chance of the first half in the 21st minute. Good attacking play from Oregon State allowed Cortijo to get the ball with some space in the box, but he was denied by the leg of Notre Dame keeper Bryan Dowd. Daniel Russo had a scoring opportunity in the 32nd minute for the Fighting Irish, but his shot was saved by Oregon State’s Luis Castillo.
After a goalless first half, it didn’t take long for a breakthrough after halftime. Notre Dame’s Wyatt Lewis found Eno Nto completely unmarked at the penalty spot, and Nto fired past Castillo to give the Fighting Irish a 1-0 lead in the 51st minute.
However, from there on out it was Oregon State who had the bulk of the scoring chances. The Beavers’ best clear-cut opportunity came in a chaotic scramble in the 67th minute. A low cross from Cortijo was parried by Dowd into the path of Arnau Farnos, whose shot was cleared off the line by center back Josh Ramsey. Farnos’ follow up shot was blocked again by Ramsey, before Dowd was able to get his hands on the ball.
Ramsey’s efforts on the goal line clearance and performance throughout the game did not go unnoticed by head coach Chad Riley. “He put in another signature performance… Dealing with two of the hottest attacking players right now in the country, I think he did a tremendous job handling both of those guys,” Riley explained in his post-match press conference.
With less than 20 minutes to play, the tide started to shift in favor of Oregon State, as they began to maintain possession and build attacks. Defender Turner Humphrey had a decent chance in the 77th minute with a close-range header, but was unable to find the target. In the 85th minute, Enzo Newman found himself with a chance unmarked at the near post, but sent his shot well wide.
Ultimately, despite a late push towards the end of the game and overcoming the adversity faced throughout the week, unseeded Oregon State saw their tournament run come to an end.
Notre Dame will advance to face Clemson in the College Cup Final on Monday, setting up a rematch of an early season showdown (3-2 Notre Dame win) and the first all-ACC final since 2013.
Picture from Lynn Family Stadium in Louisville.
Brian Ludden is a contributing writer for College Soccer News