They left it for late, but the Seton Hall men's soccer team secured their spot in the Sweet 16 of the College Cup on Sunday night with a 2-1 win over Air Force. CJ Tibbling and James Boote each got on the scoresheet for the Pirates with Tibbling scoring the game-winner in the 89' for his team-leading seventh goal of the season.
Seton Hall's win over Air Force was the program's first in an NCAA Men's Soccer Tournament since 2005, and it secured their spot in the Round of 16 for the first time since 2001.
64': James Boote curled a free kick into the back post from a tight angle on the right side of Air Force's penalty box for his first goal of the season.
75': Tristan Trager equalized for Air Force with a point-blank shot that took a deflection and floated up and over Andreas Nota.
89': Tibbling received the ball from the right side off a long throw-in, fending off two defenders to bring it out of the air and get it onto his right foot for a powerful effort that sailed past Kainoa Likewise.
Seton Hall dominated first half proceedings, taking nine shots and earning five corners as opposed to Air Force's two shots. The Pirates set themselves up to take an early lead over their opponents on several occassions through set pieces or patient build-up play, but the clinical finishing was missing for the team in the first 45 minutes.
Air Force's best opportunity of the first half came in the 35' through Trager, who shook two Seton Hall defenders before bending a well-struck shot just over the cross. Neither of their two attempted shots in the first half were on target and left Nota relatively unbothered in net.
Opportunities for either side came in waves in the final 30 minutes of the game, however, with Seton Hall looking the more likely to open the scoring to start. Mattias Almeida Sundell connected with a Johannes Pex cross at the top of the six-yard box, but Likewise was quick to get to ground and palm the freshman forward's effort away. Just a minute later, Tibbling would knock down a long ball into Sundell's path for a point-blank shot, but Likewise produced another stellar save to keep the Pirates off the scoresheet.
Tibbling created an opportunity for himself by dribbling past two defenders from the right side and fired a left-footed drive from outside the box just past the goal post. Air Force's Trager had a headed goal waved off after the linesman put his flag up for a goal kick as the initial cross curled out of bounds before coming back into play to find Trager at the back post.
Boote was also denied of a goal after his right-footed volley struck Likewise's left-sided post, but the English-born midfielder would provide the breakthrough minutes later from a free kick. The set piece looked to have taken a deflection off Maurice Williams or JP Marin, but the sophomore was given his first goal of the season after a review of the goal failed to clarify any potential interference.
Momentum shifted in favor of the Falcons after the Pirates' opening goal, though, and Seton Hall's defense would finally crack under Air Force's pressure in the final third. Elijah Bussey pressed into the box and serviced Trager who chipped the ball over Nota's reach for the equalizer.
Seton Hall slowly regained their control over the match in the final 15 minutes of regulation time, and it would be Tibbling who broke the deadlock in the final minute of the game. A long throw-in from the right side of the field bounced into the box, and the Swedish forward was able to muscle off two defenders and bring the ball down onto his right foot before scoring his seventh goal of the season past Likewise.
The Pirates will face off against Virginia Tech in their first Round of 16 appearance since 2001 on Thursday, May 6 at Wakemed Soccer Park.
Justin Sousa can be at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinSousa99.