On Sunday evening, the 3-seed Georgetown men’s soccer team (20-1-3, 7-0-2 Big East) lifted the College Cup for the first time in program history. The Hoyas defeated 1-seed Virginia (21-3-1, 6-1-1 ACC) 7-6 in penalty kicks, after ending regulation in a 3-3 draw and playing through scoreless overtime.
Georgetown fought Virginia for 110 minutes, in what was anticipated to be a defensive battle between the nation’s top two defenses. However, the game had an astonishing six goals, the most in a final since 1980, and 13 straight converted penalty kicks before Hoya freshman goalkeeper Tomas Romero saved freshman forward Axel Gunnarsson’s penalty shot.
Romero alternated with sophomore goalkeeper Giannis Nikopolidis in net all season. Head Coach Brian Wiese implemented the two-goalie system at the start of the season and did not make any changes when it came to results, opponents, or play style. By the luck of the draw, Romero earned his spot in the national championship and made the save of his life to bring the College Cup to the Hilltop.
The Hoyas were able to outlast the Hoos, who allowed three goals for the first time all season. Georgetown was also the first team to beat an ACC team at WakeMed Park in a College Cup final.
Both teams dazzled the crowd, with the fatigue of playing in the semifinals two days prior, creating more attacking opportunities than normal. As a result, both teams resorted to tactical fouls, to stop the counter attack, which resulted in 35 total fouls and 10 yellow cards.
“It felt like a war of attrition, you were just trying to outlast them by the end,” Wiese stated. Senior defender Dylan Nealis added, “Everyone was cramping up at the end of the game and our depth worked in our favor.”
Before the season, Wiese said: “I didn’t think I would use 18-19 guys throughout the season. I thought I would find a core group of guys and play them in big moments but those 18-19 guys became the core group. I haven’t experienced that in my coaching career and it is something I am grateful for.”
After the game, Nealis was named the Defensive Most Outstanding Player. In addition to the senior captain’s achievement, junior forward Derek Dodson, freshman defender Daniel Wu, sophomore midfielder Sean Zawadzki earned spots on the all-tournament team.
Georgetown capped off the season with a 17-game unbeaten streak and a program-record 20 wins.
Sophomore forward Zach Riviere opened up the game in the fifth minute with the Hoyas’ first shot but sailed his shot into the stands. It did not take long for the Hoos to react, scoring the game’s first goal in the 10th minute. Junior midfielder Joe Bell fired a one-time shot from outside the box, bouncing off Zawadzki and Wu before sneaking past the outstretched hand of Romero. Virginia nearly doubled their lead a minute later, but junior forward Nathaniel Crofts’ shot rolls slowly into Romero’s hands.
“Going down early was tough, you never know if that’s going to be the only goal,” stressed Wiese.
In the 16th minute, Georgetown leveled the game at one off of junior midfielder Paul Rothrock’s goal. Riviere whipped in a shot that deflected into the air of a defender. While a Hoos’ defender and junior goalie Colin Shutler failed to communicate over the loose ball, Rothrock calmly settled the deflection, megging Shutler to tie the game.
“Paul’s goal was an indicator of how things were going to go,” Wiese added.
In the 22nd minute, Rothrock and Riviere stood over a dead ball 40 yards from goal. Rothrock ran across the ball, shifting the Virginia defense before Riviere sent the free-kick into the box. Running away from goal, junior defender Rio Hope-Gund flicked a backwards header into the center of the box. Wu, a Cary native, finished off the set-piece, scoring his first collegiate goal to give the Hoyas their first lead of the game.
The two sides combined for four more shots to close out the half but neither could hit the target, as the Blue & Gray held onto a 2-1 lead after an energetic first half.
Georgetown had a few early opportunities in the second half from Dodson and Nealis. Dodson’s attempt resulted in a corner, which led to Shutler making the first save of the half for Virginia.
The Hoos leveled the game off of a failed clearance in the 58th minute. Junior defender Sean O’Hearn was dispossessed at the edge of the box after making a sliding tackle. The ball bounced out to a Virginia attacker, who found junior forward Irakoze Donasiyano 20 yards out from goal. Donasiyano laid the ball off to sophomore forward Daniel Steedman. Taking two touches to turn towards goal, Steedman stuck the ball cleanly past three GU defenders, before his shot rang in off the far post.
Dodson intercepted a pass near midfield, passing to junior midfielder Jacob Montes, running down the middle of the pitch in the 59th minute. Montes slid around a defender but his shot ricocheted off a defender and rolled easily to Shutler.
With 28 minutes left in regulation, Virginia junior defender Spencer Patter whipped in a dangerous shot from outside the 18-yard box. Georgetown stood nervously as the ball flew over Romero and past the far post.
Freshman forward Will Sands earned the Hoyas’ first yellow card and the second of the night for a sliding tackle, that sandwiched the Virginia attacker in the 64th minute. Bell received a yellow card two minutes later for a tactical foul on junior midfielder Jack Beer, as Beer broke free towards midfield. The Hoos’ junior defender Henry Kessler was issued VU’s third yellow of the night in the 70th minute.
Once again, the Cavaliers were shown a yellow card in the 78th minute for a foul committed by senior defender Robin Afamefuna when the Virginia defender barreled over Nealis.
In the 79th minute, senior forward Achara dribbled into the box, cutting in and sending a cross out for a corner off the leg of a Virginia defender. However, the Blue & Gray were unable to capitalize off the corner kick.
Two minutes later, Dodson gave the Blue & Gray a late lead off of his 11th goal of the season. The play started off with a 35-yard pass from Zawadzki. The ball bounced off the foot of a Virginia defender before Achara found Dodson at the top of the box with a through ball. Dodson calmly slotted the ball into the bottom left corner for the goal. Running in celebration, the GU players and student section jumped with joy at the corner flag, celebrating what they thought was the game-winning goal.
“Achara and Dodson’s goal was worthy of winning a national championship but sometimes you have to do just a little more to secure victory in games like this,” Wiese said.
Virginia tied the game up once again with four minutes left in regulation off a set-piece. The Hoos sent in a free-kick that bounced through the box and found Gunnarsson at the back post. The Swedish forward lobbed a ball across the box to the towering sophomore forward Daryl Dike. Heading the ball towards goal, Dike’s shot bounced off of junior midfielder Foster McCune. Pouncing on his rebound, Dike sent the equalizing into the roof of the net. Romero was visibly upset with how wide open Gunnarsson was at the back post.
The Hoos had one more threatening attack before the end of regulation but the GU defense was able to hold off the relentless Cavaliers’ attack, sending the game into sudden-death overtime.
“The team was a little disappointed not to hold onto the lead but were in a good mental space” heading into overtime, Wiese stated.
Rothrock had an early chance in overtime to finish the game off for the Hoyas but Shutler scampered from post to post to make the save in the 94th minute. Montes had one more chance on goal as the first half of overtime came to a close, however, his free-kick from 25 yards out sailed over the crossbar.
Both teams had opportunities in the second half of overtime but neither could close out the game, meaning the College Cup Champion would be determined in penalty kicks for the first time since 2016.
As the game head to penalty kicks, the crowd began to migrate behind the goal. Filling the bleachers, the crowd did not make it easy for the kick takers with their deafening chants.
Before the penalty shootout, Wiese stated, “three or four of our main kick takers were injured and it was really good to see some of the other guys step up in the moment.”
O’Hearn stepped up to take the first penalty for the Hoyas. Calmly running up to the ball, O’Hearn sent Shutler the wrong way, giving the Blue & Gray a 1-0 lead.
Virginia sent Bell to the penalty spot as their first shooter. Bell sent Romero to the left of the goal and finished in the bottom right corner to tie things at 1-1 after the first round.
Riviere ran straight at the ball, sending the left-footed shot into the top right corner, giving Georgetown a 2-1 lead.
Steedman stepped in the second round for the Cavaliers, tying things up at 2-2, roofing a shot right down the middle.
Beer walked up to the spot next for the Blue & Gray, rolling his shot into the bottom-left corner.
Donasiyano, with a similar finish to Beer, ended the third round tied at 3-3.
Freshman midfielder Dante Polvara walked up to the penalty spot with confidence, sending the ice-cold penalty past the outstretched hands of Shutler.
The Hoos responded with a freshman of their own, defender Andreas Ueland. Ueland took a slow two-step runup, waiting for Romero to make his move before he found the bottom-right corner of the net.
Senior midfielder JB Fischer converted in the fifth round for the Hoyas. Fischer’s shot bounced off Shutler’s arm and into the goal.
Crofts tied the shootout out at 5-5, banging his shot in off the left post.
Wu sent Shutler the wrong way, giving the Hoyas a 6-5 lead with his attempt, as his high school club teammates cheered behind the goal.
Romero almost won the game for the Hoyas but sophomore midfielder Bret Halsey’s shot bounced off Romero’s hands into the side of the net.
Freshman midfielder Aidan Rocha gave the Hoyas a 7-6 lead in the seventh round, sending Shutler the wrong way.
Gunnarsson stepped up for the Cavaliers, looking to extend the shootout. Unfortunately for Gunnarsson, his shot did not have enough power and Romero palmed it away for the Hoyas’ first national championship.
As Gunnarsson fell to the ground in despair, the Hoyas swarmed their keeper and celebrated on the pitch. Tears were shed, family members were embraced, the Georgetown student section roared as loud as ever, and the College Cup was lifted by the Blue & Gray.
Reflecting on their season and the amazing run they made, many players had to be dragged back into the locker room following the most important game in program history.
“This win was for was for everyone, the university, the alumni, and all of our fans,” Nealis exclaimed. “Our success dates back to the first Georgetown team, we had so many alumni that wanted to rush onto the field after Tomas saved the penalty kick.” Nealis finished off his college career with a win for him and his brother, a senior on the 2012 squad that fell to Indiana in Georgetown’s first national championship game.
Nealis added, “Hopefully the freshman can take some of the lessons [the seniors] helped give to build the program even further.”
The Hoyas look strong to make another deep tournament run next season, graduating eight players and bringing in a strong recruiting class.
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