CARY, N.C. — It was a great day at WakeMed Soccer Park for two of the greatest teams in NCAA DI men’s soccer history to face off for a national title. Ten combined national championships were on display as two legendary coaches went head to head. UCLA, led by Jorge Salcedo, had its potent offense on display while George Gelnovatch and his Cavaliers smothering defense would have to be at its best.
In the end, defense prevailed and the Virginia won its seventh national championship 4-3 in penalty kicks after a 0-0 draw.
The first five minutes were slow as each team was conservative and calculated in their possessions, with neither leading a full out attack. Fifteen minutes into the game, the No. 2-seeded UCLA Bruins began their attack. Surprisingly, Virginia did not change its game plan that had gotten it in the position to win a seventh title: fall back and defend.
UCLA began to control the pace very methodically on the Cavaliers side of the field to no avail. Chase Gasper, Friday night’s hero who scored the game winner for UCLA, finally fired the first shot in the 15th minute, but fired it high over the net. Six minutes later, UCLA star Leo Stolz rifled the first and only corner kick of the half on goal, but Virginia keeper Calle Brown jumped out of the net to catch it and end any threat the Bruins imposed.
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There was no shortage of opportunities for the Bruins. A free kick by UCLA midfielder Brian Iloski was headed down by Edgar Contreras, but Brown was able to once again jump in and save the shot with relative ease.
Despite the fact that Virginia defended deeply throughout the entire first half, rarely moving anyone forward with any consistency, the Cavaliers did manage to get three shots. Hoos defender Scott Thomsen launched a free kick high over the net and co-captain Todd Wharton shot a free kick low right at Earl Edwards, Jr. for an easy save. The two powerhouses headed into the locker room tied 0-0.
“I told Edgar and Amick in the back that we really didn’t have to do much in the first half,” Bruins keeper Earl Edwards, Jr. said. “That was almost exactly what they wanted. I told these guys that was a decent half for us, but a perfect half for them.”
Both teams came out more aggressive in the second half. The best scoring opportunity of the game for either team came in the 54th minute of the game. Bruins defender Felix Vobejda crossed it to defender Andrew Tusaazemajja in front of the Cavaliers net, who headed it to Larry Ndjock, who headed it inches wide of the net.
The Cavaliers brought in their injury-plagued leader Eric Bird in the 65th minute. The Hoos immediately responded creating a corner kick, but wasted the opportunity. Bird would not last seven minutes as he would get knocked to the ground. After medical attention, Bird left the field again and was replaced by Pablo Aguilar. Bird was able to return later in the game and give his teammates the boost they needed.
Aside from a few moments, the Cavaliers back four rarely let the high-flying Bruins behind them and when they did, they made kick saves and deflections to deter the Bruins attempted shots on net.
Leo Stolz was aggressive and seemed to put the championship hopes of the Bruins on his shoulders. The two-time MAC Hermann Award semifinalist was playing up almost the entire second half. He had five shots on goal at the end of regulation, several being near misses.
“We had decent chances, that we should have done better,” Stolz said on UCLA’s missed opportunities. “Me, myself, I missed a couple chances.”
The Cavaliers stood pat in their defensive form, much like a matador taunting a bull. They allowed UCLA to come at them with everything they had, only to pull the cape out of the way at the last minute and leave the Bruins empty handed. The few sets and breakaways the Cavaliers were able to establish still saw the core of the defense stay back for the majority of the second half. Still, the Bruins offense dictated the tone and heading into the final 15 minutes outshot the Cavaliers 7-0 in the second half. Stolz led the way, missing being the hero on several shots that went just high of the net.
Whether it was from good defensive plays by the Cavaliers or missed opportunities by the Bruins relentless attack, the game was tied at the end of regulation.
“It was very difficult to break down,” UCLA head coach Jorge Salcedo commented on Virginia’s defensive tactics. “There’s an old saying that sometimes teams park a bus in front of their own goal, but today there were two busses in front of their goal. I really think we had enough chances to be quite honest.”
“It was a little nerve-wracking,” Cavaliers senior defender Kyler Sullivan said in regards to UVA’s defensive strong front. “But I knew with the guys I had behind to me, next to me and in front of me, I knew if we just absorbed, absorbed, absorbed until we had to, until that clock ran out and went into PKs, we’d be able to take it to them and get this championship.”
The first overtime came to a quick conclusion still tied. The Bruins had another huge opportunity ended by a nice save by Calle Brown. Stolz sent the ball into the box, where it ricocheted off Larry Ndjock and Abu Danladi just missed a chance to play the hero with a game winner. The overtime drew to a close with Larry Ndjock getting a yellow card on a hit.
The second overtime saw another missed opportunity on a Bruins corner kick. The Cavaliers played remarkable defense on the Bruins corners all day. UCLA out-corner kicked the Cavaliers 7-5 on the day. A late push in the final seconds by the Cavaliers Thomsen resulted in him being tripped up and having a free kick with just 20 seconds left. With the chance to create a dramatic goal, the Bruins defense tightened up and the game rolled onto penalty kicks.
The stage was set — UCLA or Virginia would win the title based on the legs of their five most trusted feet and the instincts of their keepers.
“In practice we are always going through PKs and the guys tell me whenever I reach up and touch the bar it’s intimidating,” 2014 College Cup most outstanding defensive player, keeper Calle Brown, said on his strategy. “It can throw you off in your rhythm.”
Cavaliers co-captain Todd Wharton led things off, sneaking one by Earl Edwards, Jr.’s right side. Bruins midfielder Brian Iloski quickly answered putting it by Brown. Scott Thomsen, who had played so well all game for the Cavaliers, couldn’t get it past Edwards, Jr., who dove to his left and blocked the shot. With an opportunity to take an advantage, Gage Zerboni clunked it off the upper cross bar, as Brown’s 6’5” frame seemingly came into play. Sophomore Sam Hayward would give the Cavaliers the lead on the next kick. Looking to tie it up for the Bruins, Willie Raygoza again sent it off the top crossbar. Andrew Tusaazemajia gave the Cavaliers a 3-1 lead on the next PK. With the game on the line, Larry Ndjock, as he had all College Cup, came through for the Bruins and drove a bullet past Brown’s right side. Looking to ice the national championship, Riggs Lennon approached the ball and sent it into the net. The match was over. The Virginia Cavaliers had captured their seventh national championship winning 4-2 in PKs.
“I actually didn’t really think about it until afterwards when I turned around and said, ‘We just won a national championship’,” Cavaliers forward Riggs Lennon said about his game-winning PK. “You don’t really think about it too much until afterwards.”
“This one is pretty rewarding,” Gelnovatch said comparing his newest title to the six others in Virginia history he has been a part of. “It has a lot to do about this group. It’s not my most talented team in my 19 years. You have to have talent to get here, but the team spirit and chemistry, the intelligence and adaptability to tactics was off the charts. We tweaked, and we redid. This team was exceptional at adapting.”
“This is the most rewarding experience in my life so far,” Calle Brown said about coming back for one more year to try and win a title. “We’ve evolved as the season has gone along. We have been a very defensive orientated team. Hats off to my defense, I couldn’t have earned that MVP without them. Kyler [Sullivan] was a beast out there, Sheldon [Sullivan], Matt [Brown], Scott [Thomsen]. It was unbelievable to watch just blocking and keep grinding and that’s why we won.”
Brown headlined the 2014 College Cup All-Tournament Team that saw six Cavaliers share honors. Darius Madison, Kyler Sullivan Sheldon Sullivan, Pablo Aguilar and Jake Rozhansky joined Brown. Leo Stolz, Michael Amick, and Larry Ndjock represented UCLA on the team. Oumar Ballo was named to the team from UMBC. Providence forward Mac Steeves rounded out the team and took home the tournament’s most outstanding offensive player award.