Virginia 0 – UCLA 0 (OT) – The Cavaliers prevailed 4-2 in penalty kicks to claim the 2014 National Championship after the contest was scoreless at the end of regulation and two ten minute overtime periods.
Soccer can sometimes be a cruel game as the 2014 national championship game demonstrated. For starters, it is always difficult when a game of this magnitude is scoreless and has to be determined by penalty kicks. UCLA was clearly the aggressor throughout the game and got the best of the run of play and possession with a fifteen to nine advantage in shots and a seven to five advantage in corner kicks. However, both teams had three shots on goal which is a reflection of Virginia's effectiveness on the defensive side of the ball. Virginia threatened on occasion with junior forward Darius Madison in particular utilizing his speed and touch on the ball to provide the best opportunities for the Cavaliers but their attack for most of the contest was the equivalent of a one-man jailhouse break with no-one up-front to partner with on most of their counter attacks. Both Virginia goalkeeper Calle Brown who was named the Defensive MVP of the College Cup and UCLA netminder Earl Edwards Jr. each had three saves in goal.
Since Virginia never trailed in the contest they never had to chase and it enabled them to keep their focus on keeping numbers behind the ball defensively throughout the game. The Bruins were able to successfully knock the ball around for a majority of the game on the perimeter without being tightly contested but Virginia was successful in keeping them off the scoreboard as UCLA never could come up with the combination of passes needed to break down the Virginia defense. Bruin midfielder Leo Stolz often had plenty of time during the first half before pushing further up in the second stanza to play long diagonal balls designed to switch the point of attack but UCLA was never able to penetrate the Virginia defense as they effectively shut down the passing lanes and seemed content on keeping the contest scoreless and settling the outcome in a shootout. Bruin freshman forward Abu Danladi and junior forward Larry Ndjock had limited chances to finish but for the most part were tightly marked when in the attacking third and Virginia's sagging defense did an excellent job of quickly dropping back to keep the Bruins from getting a numbers advantage or of creating transitional opportunities.
On one hand you have to credit veteran Virginia head coach George Gelnovatch with developing an effective game plan that gave his players the greatest opportunity to win and the Cavalier players for executing it to perfection. On the other hand the sagging defense first Cavalier strategy didn't reflect the type of soccer that one would normally expect to see from a program with the talent level that Virginia has and no matter how you spin it this one will not go down in history as a general fan favorite. Regardless, of your viewpoint on that the Cavaliers who had to play most of the tournament without team leader senior midfielder Eric Bird showed a ton of grit, determination and organization.
Virginia claimed their seventh National Championship with their last one coming in 2009 when they topped Akron in a contest that also required penalty kicks to determine a winner. The road to the national championship for the Cavaliers included a 3-1 win over UNCW, a 1-0 win over Notre Dame, advancing past Georgetown in penalty kicks after the contest was tied 1-1 and a 1-0 win over UMBC.
Credit the Virginia backline of senior Matt Brown, senior Kyler Sullivan, junior Scott Thomsen and redshirt freshman Sheldon Sullivan along with goalkeeper Calle Brown with an outstanding effort. Todd Wharton, Sam Hayward, Patrick Foss, and Riggs Lennon converted their penalty kicks for the Cavaliers in the penalty-kick shootout.
UCLA ends another banner season with a 14-5-5 overall record. The Bruins earned their 32nd berth in the NCAA Tournament, made their 14th trip to the Final Four, and advanced to the College Cup final for the 9th time.
UCLA midfielder Leo Stolz, defender Michael Amick and forward Larry Ndjock were named to the College Cup All-Tournament team. Virginia was represented on the All-Tournament team by forward Darius Madison, midfielder Jake Rozhansky, midfielder Pablo Aguilar, defenders Kyler and Sheldon Sullivan, and goalkeeper Calle Brown.
After a 2014 season in which the unexpected seemed to be the norm at times it was fitting that two of the four teams that advanced to the College Cup (UMBC and Providence) did so for the first time. But when it was all said and done the National Championship game on Sunday matched two of the premier programs in the country in UCLA and Virginia who were on everyone's short list as potential contenders for the 2014 National Championship prior to the start of the season.
However what was unexpected and few would have predicted at the beginning of the year was that a Virginia team that is normally as good as they get in terms of taking the attack to their opponent would approach the tourney with a packed in or defense first mindset. Perhaps the answer to that is at least partially reflected in the fact that the twenty-seven goals that the Cavaliers scored in 2014 was the fewest goals of any team during Gelnovatch's nineteen year tenure to date as the head coach at Virginia. In defense of Virginia, no pun intended, the tactic they deployed became necessary due to injuries, the NCAA Tourney is all about surviving and advancing, and once the tourney gets underway when a system of play works as it did for Virginia it is not wise to change it.
Virginia head coach George Gelnovatch stated, "This one's pretty rewarding. It's hard to say more rewarding than 2009, because that was my first one (as head coach), but pretty close." Gelnovatch added, "It's not my most talented team in my nineteen years. But the team spirit and chemistry and intelligence and adaptability to tactics (of this group was) off the charts."