Syracuse secures the programs first ever national championship in a match that came down to a penalty kick shootout after it was tied 2-2 at the conclusion of 110 minutes of play. By Brian Ludden
Indiana had the first quality chance of the game, as a Maouloune Goumballe cross found Herbert Endeley at the top of the six-yard box in the fifth minute, but Endeley’s shot went just wide of the post, and Syracuse fans were able to breathe a sigh of relief. Ryan Wittenbrink, who scored Indiana’s first goal on Friday in the semifinal against Pittsburgh, had the first shot on target in the 13th minute, but his low curling effort was comfortably saved by Syracuse keeper Russell Shealy.
Syracuse found their first good opportunity in the 19th minute, where Nathan Opoku slipped a pass through to Noah Singelmann, but Indiana keeper JT Harms was able to get a foot on it and make the save. Another opportunity for Syracuse came just a minute later, as Lorenzo Boselli’s long distance shot was pushed aside by Harms.
The game’s first goal came in the 23rd minute, as Opoku received the ball with his back to goal, was able to navigate through multiple defenders, and curl a shot into the top corner, giving Harms no chance. “I just realized I had enough space to turn, so when I turned I just saw the keeper was on the [near post] so I just played it to the far post. It went in” explained Opoku. The goal was the first that Indiana had allowed in the tournament.
The lead didn’t last for long, however, as Indiana responded less than ten minutes later. Syracuse was unable to clear a Wittenbrink corner, and the ball fell to Patrick McDonald, who fired a first-time volley into a slew of bodies. Shealy was unable to see the ball, and was left helpless as he watched it fly past him and hit the back of the net.
But Indiana’s celebrations were almost immediately cut short, as Opoku, working in tight spaces once again, was able to create space for a cross, which fell to Curt Calov. Calov took a touch to settle himself, and stabbed it past Harms, giving the lead right back to Syracuse. Syracuse nearly doubled their lead in the 40th minute, when a missed clearance by Indiana’s Joey Maher caused a few heart-in-mouth moments for Hoosier fans, but no Syracuse player was able to take advantage.
It stayed 2-1 heading into halftime, and the first part of the second half didn’t generate many quality chances. Opoku had a chance to score his second of the night in the 70th minute, but sent his header over the bar. But from there, the game really started to open up. Indiana’s Sam Sarver went down in the box in the 71st minute, but no penalty was given. Syracuse went down the field almost instantly, but a Giona Leibold shot was saved by Harms.
Syracuse then, for at least a few minutes, almost looked like they wanted to give up an equalizer. Shealy came well off his line to clear a long ball, but Indiana were able to force a turnover in the midfield. Noticing Shealy off his line, Indiana’s Tommy Mihalic tried to chip the keeper from deep, but Shealy was able to get just enough on it to prevent a goal. From the ensuing corner, Syracuse again was unable to completely clear their lines, and a miss-clearance by Opoku came back off the crossbar and barely stayed out.
It seemed evident that the pressure that Indiana was applying would result in an equalizer, and they found that second goal in the 80th minute. Sarver’s deflected shot fell to an unmarked Herbert Endeley at the top of the box, and Endeley unleashed a rocket of a shot. Shealy was able to get a finger to it, but the power of the shot took the ball past the Syracuse keeper and rippled the net, sending Indiana players and fans into jubilation. Looking for a winner, Indiana got a decent chance off of a free kick in the 83rd minute, but no one was on site to turn home a Daniel Munie flicked header.
After scoring the equalizer they were so desperately looking for, Indiana went into extra time with the momentum. Syracuse were able to get a few scoring opportunities via corner kicks and free kicks, but couldn’t generate a shot on target. Leibold had a chance to regain the lead for Syracuse in the 103rd minute when he found himself 1-on-1 with Harms, but the Indiana keeper was able to come off his line and make the save. A few more decent chances were created at both ends, but after 110 minutes no one could break the deadlock, meaning this one would be decided by spot kicks.
Wittenbrink and Syracuse’s Lorenzo Boselli each scored their opening penalties, before each of the goalkeepers made a save on the second attempt. The shooters on both sides were perfect on each of their next five shots, including Levonte Johnson banging his shot in off the crossbar. As the teams stayed level through the initial five rounds and then into “sudden death”, Maouloune Goumballe stepped up for Indiana, and saw his penalty saved by Shealy. Syracuse captain Amferny Sinclair promptly stepped up, and calmly sent his shot past Harms. “He’s our captain for a reason,” explained Shealy in the postgame press conference. “Calm, cool, collected. Put it top corner.” The title finishes off a historic season for Syracuse, as they secure both the ACC title and, more importantly, the national title.
It is always tough when a contest of this magnitude has to be decided by a penalty kick shootout. However, at a certain point there has to be a way to determine a winner. This was the sixth time in the last nine years that the national championship has been decided in overtime.
Syracuse head coach Ian McIntyre stated, “This was a championship prize fight. It went all the way to the end. This group finds a way. They are so resilient and tough.” McIntyre added, “Indiana has been one of the historical programs that does everything right. They are one of the benchmarks. I have so much respect for them being consistently the best. They were terrific.”
Indiana head coach Todd Yeagley stated, “I don’t think of this as a lost opportunity. If we continue to do things well, things will happen. We’ll do everything we can to keep the program moving forward.” Yeagley added, “What a fabulous game. There was a lot of emotion, a lot of soccer, a lot of great goals. It was a great showcase for what college soccer is.”
The passion, the emotion, the joy of victory and the agony of defeat. This is what college soccer is all about, and it was on display all season, especially in this NCAA Tournament and College Cup. This is why we love this beautiful game. And we get to do it all over again in eight months.
Picture from Syracuse Athletics
Brian Ludden is a contributing writer for College Soccer News.