Indiana’s quest for a 9th national title will continue for at least one more year.
The Hoosiers (14-4-7, 3-1-4 B1G) fell to the Syracuse Orange (20-2-4, 5-1-2 ACC) in penalty kicks at WakeMed Park in Cary, NC. Amferny Sinclair scored the winning penalty for Syracuse after 110 breathtaking minutes of soccer, including seven rounds of penalty kicks.
The victory was Syracuse’s first-ever national title. It was the first title for an ACC team since 2011.
In case you thought nerves would play a factor tonight, that idea was eliminated from the get-go. The Hoosiers and Orange played an up-and-down affair in front of over 4,000 witnesses in Cary.
The teams combined for 17 shots in the first half and played soccer at a fervent pace. For comparison, Indiana and Pitt combined for 14 shots for the entire match in Friday’s semifinal.
The Orange struck first in the 24th minute. Nathan Opoku, a sophomore forward who is drawing interest from club teams in Europe, collected the ball at the edge of the box and used some creative footwork to create some space. After a quick breath, Opoku curled a beautiful left-footed strike into the top corner, beating JT Harms in the process.
Harms and the Hoosiers had conceded for the first time in the tournament. As a result, they were playing from behind for the first time as well. IU responded instantly.
Patrick McDonald, a North Carolina native, expertly volleyed home after a scramble resulting from a corner kick. McDonald, not known for his goal-scoring prowess, had his second goal of the season and evened up the contest.
Not for long.
Rather than scoring, Opoku distributed to substitute midfielder Curt Calov, and Calov stabbed at a ball near they penalty spot and sharply found space out of Harms’ reach. That was Calov’s third goal of the season. He contributed an assist in Syracuse’s 3-2 semifinal win over Creighton.
Not too much happened in the final 13 minutes of the first half. We went to the intermission.
Rather than No. 13 Indiana putting pressure on for an equalizer, the No. 3 seed Syracuse looked more likely to take a 3-1 advantage in the opening stages of the second half. The first two shots of the second half were taken by the Orange, and they had the majority of possession as well.
Tommy Mihalic had IU’s first true chance of the second half in the 69th minute, as he almost caught Syracuse goalkeeper Russell Shealy out of his net. Shealy made an acrobatic save to keep his team in front.
Another Indiana opportunity came in the 74th minute, as the Hoosiers came literal inches away from evening the match at 2-2. After Joey Maher flicked a corner at the near post, a Hoosier shot glanced off the bottom of the crossbar and came down just outside the goal line. After review, the play was correctly deemed no goal. The play also was adjudicated to be offside, which would have nullified the goal had the ball crossed the line.
Herb Endeley, who has a history of scoring goals in big moment for Indiana, equalized for the Hoosiers in the 80th minute with a special moment of brilliance. He sent an absolute rocket from the edge of the box straight into the top corner. Shealy had no chance for Syracuse in net.
The senior forward had his fourth goal of the season, but the thunderbolt was Endeley’s third career NCAA Tournament goal. He also recorded three career assists in NCAA Tournament play. With 10 minutes left, the Hoosiers and Orange were even.
The Hoosier fans at WakeMed Park let out a roar, as did the fans at IU’s watch party at Assembly Hall.
Neither team created a chance for the remainder of normal time, and the overtime periods were necessary to settle the national championship.
In the 20 minutes of overtime, the best chance came from the right foot of Indiana’s Jack Wagoner. As he pursued a pass in the box, Wagoner slightly misjudged his steps to set off a perfectly clean strike at Shealy’s goal. Wagoner’s attempt drifted just wide of the top corner with about four minutes to spare.
In the penalty shootout, Syracuse took the early advantage when Karsen Henderlong was denied by Shealy. Harms returned the favor for Indiana to even the shootout. Syracuse All-American Levonte Johnson, who was quiet for the most part all game, found fortune when his penalty kick deflected off the bottom off the crossbar and into the net. Maoloune Goumballe, on the next attempt, saw his kick saved by Shealy. Sinclair drove it into the corner to win it for Syracuse.
Indiana will now take time to decide which players will graduate, move on to professional careers, or transfer. At the same time, IU will bring in a new recruiting class and dip into the portal themselves. IU will being their mission to win a 9th national title in the fall.
Featured Image: NCAA Soccer