SMU falls one goal short of Final Four in overtime

In many ways, the Elite Eight matchup between SMU and UVA played like a title fight, just two rounds earlier than most college soccer fans would have preferred. Klockner Stadium, instead of WakeMed Park at the College Cup, was the host for this clash of styles. With the number one defense challenging the second best offense in the country, something had to give.

It may have taken overtime to decide the fate of two teams seemingly deserving of making a College Cup appearance, but it was ultimately Virginia that lived to see another day. Just four minutes into overtime, the newly minted member of the New Zealand national team, Joe Bell, polished off a penalty kick ricochet off his left foot to give Virginia a 3-2 victory.

The thrilling finish to the contest was befitting of a high-level match but also brought an abrupt end to a back and forth night. If indeed the soccer Gods do exist, as many college soccer fans religiously reference, it was as if both teams had their respective moments of destiny. After Virginia struck first in the 18th minute of play, off a smooth follow from the Cavaliers’ Axel Gunnarsson, SMU found the answer.

Pressing the issue for much of the first half after the goal, the second 45 minutes rewarded SMU’s trio of attacking forwards with quality chances. Despite being outshot 18-7 on the game, SMU won the time of possession following the first score.

SMU patiently continued to attack until the break through in the 70th minute of the match. After earning a penalty kick off a hand ball in the box, spurred by the efforts of sophomore Knut Ahlander, Gabriel Costa put his foot through his ninth goal of the season. Skirting the hands of UVA goalkeeper Colin Shutler, Costa’s strike glanced off the right post and softly rolled into the back of the net to tie the game at one a piece.

Virginia, playing through its second-team all ACC selection in Daryl Dike, went back to what gave the Mustangs the most trouble following Costa’s equalizer. Dike, a 6-2, 220 pound sophomore, barreled down the right flank to draw a penalty kick of his own, this time off of Phil Ponder. Ponder, who had been battling with Dike in a match that saw both players pick up yellow cards, could not cleanly swipe at the ball in the box and set up UVA’s second goal.

That time it was Bell again, the midfielder of the year in the ACC, slamming a ball past Grant Makela who had guessed correctly on the penalty kick.

The resolve of the Mustangs, and the pressure that was being paced by Costa and many others, resulted in the retaliatory goal for SMU to ensure extra time. With the clock showing six minutes left, Ahlander corralled a miscleared ball from the ‘Hood and found Costa at the top of the box. Playing against a scrambling defense, Costa served a ball into a skying Henrik Bredeli who headed it down into the left side for a goal. SMU breathed life into the game a second time, matching the score at two heading into overtime.

The game, however, would end the way it began; a one-on-one matchup between Dike and Ponder. Playing in what would be his final game as a Mustang, Ponder contained one of Virginia’s most lethal weapons for most of the night, but Dike exploited a sliver of daylight in the 94th minute to have the final say. In a game where the storyline coming in was Virginia’s defense not allowing a goal for 320 consecutive minutes, until Costa’s strike, that script was flipped for what would ultimately punch Virginia’s ticket to Cary, North Carolina. Instead, UVA’s offense was center stage while the Mustang defense attempted to quell challenges.

Ponder again found himself alone in the box with Dike in the final sequence of the game, forced the sophomore to lose his footing. The center official, though, saw it slightly differently, awarding the Hoos a penalty kick that set the stage for possible heroics from SMU backup keeper Patrick Michael Hillyard. After Makela went off with an injury before the penality kick, Hillyard stepped in for his first minutes of the season in about as big of a spot as could be imagined.

Blocking Bell’s first try, the ball rebounded off the hands of the senior keeper only to roll back to the striker’s foot as Bell netted the golden goal.

The season fell one goal shy of what would have been SMU’s third appearance in the College Cup in program history. For Virginia, it now waits for an opponent in the chase for an eighth championship. The SMU senior class goes out with three conference championships and a daunting 51 wins.