For the first time since 1988 and only the second time in program history, the Seton Hall men's soccer team will be heading to the quarter finals of the College Cup. The Pirates punched their ticket to the Elite Eight after beating Virginia Tech 7-6 in a penalty kick shootout after remaining level at 2-2 through two periods of overtime on Thursday night.
Maurice Williams and Andrea Borg got themselves on the scoresheet during regulation time, but it was senior goalkeeper Andreas Nota who scored the decisive penalty kick in the shootout. Awaiting the Pirates is No. 3 Indiana University, the same team that knocked them out at this stage of the tournament over 30 years ago before going on to win the College Cup in 1988.
14': Nick Blacklock put his defender off balance to switch the ball onto his left foot to open his body for a curling effort that was heading toward Nota's back post. However, Luca Dahn's attempt to block the shot redirected the ball in the opposite direction and left Nota with nothing to do but watch the ball hit the back of his net.
45': With less than 15 seconds remaining in the first half, the Pirates equalized in classic Seton Hall fashion from a James Boote set piece. The sophomore midfielder whipped a ball into the Hokies' box from the right flank, and Maurice Williams climbed to meet the ball with a header for his fourth goal of the season.
56': The Hokies put together an excellent string of passes down their right side before a backheel flick by Jacob Labovitz at the top of the box found an open Blacklock for his second goal of the game.
Seton Hall got off to one of their best stylistic starts to a game this season, dominating the Hokies in possession and slicing open their defense on several occasions with slick passing sequences. The Pirates 10 shots with six on target in the opening 15 minutes, but the goal-scoring touch that had been so prevalent in the run-up to this game was nonexistent to start against Virginia Tech.
Their best opportunity of that passage of play came when Mattias Almeida Sundell was brought down in the box and Seton Hall were awarded a penalty kick. Camil Koreichi stepped up to take the penalty kick, but the French midfielder's shot down the middle was saved by Matt Zambetti.
The penalty kick save injected a rush of confidence within Virginia Tech as they began to hold the ball a bit longer rather than allowing Seton Hall to continue playing in their half, and the initiative eventually paid off with the opening goal of the game. Labovitz laid off a pass to Blacklock at the top of the box, and the sophomore fired a hopeful left-footed shot toward Nota's far post, but Dahn's attempt to block the shot on deflected the effort into an empty net and allowed Virginia Tech to score from their first shot of the game.
Seton Hall would have another opportunity to get their first goal of the game just three minutes later through CJ Tibbling. The Swedish forward received the ball on the left side and dashed between his defenders off his first touch to open himself for an unchallenged left-footed shot at goal. He dragged the shot wide, though, and the Hokies held onto their one-goal lead.
The Pirates' breakthrough would finally come at the end of the first half. Boote stood over a free kick on the right side of the field and delivered one last cross into the box with 15 seconds remaining on the clock. Williams and Dahn both leaped over their defenders to connect with the ball, but it was Williams who would head the ball back across goal and into the back of the net for the equalizer. The goal was Williams' fourth of the season and the assists was Boote's ninth from a set piece play.
The opening 15 minutes of the second half were not as dominated by the Pirates as the first half's opening minutes were, and the Hokies took advantage of how open the game had become. Jakob Bluemler tore through the left side of Seton Hall's defense before sending a pass inside to Labovitz, but the senior forward instinctively flicked the ball toward an open Blacklock for the Hokies' second goal of the game. It was just the fourth time all season that Nota had allowed more than one goal in a game and the first time since Seton Hall's 3-2 overtime win at St. John's in March.
Virginia Tech kept the Pirates at bay for the next 25 minutes of play, sitting in a deep defensive block and forcing them to play meaningless possession around them in the middle third. Labovitz nearly added another assist and a goal to his name within the span of 60 seconds with 12 minutes left to play. The senior broke through Seton Hall's right-sided defenders and drilled a low cross through the six yard box, but none of the other Hokies were within range to finish what would have been a simple tap-in. Just seconds later, Labovitz would have scored Virginia Tech's third goal if not for his left-footed shot from outside the box being blocked by the goal post.
The Hokies would pay for their missed opportunities like the Pirates did in the first half though. Boote delivered a corner kick into the box that was met by a huddle of Hokies and Pirates contesting for the ball, but it would eventually fall to the feet of Borg for the sophomore to score his first goal of the season. Boote would not be credited with the assist, but his delivery from a dead-ball play provided the life line the Pirates needed to force over time yet again.
As momentum shifted once again, this time in favor of Seton Hall, the Hokies found themselves playing the final 10 minutes with 10 men when Labovitz got himself sent off for a second yellow card offense. Despite the numerical advantage, though, the Pirates couldn't find a late winner to avoid the over time.
Truthfully, the ensuing 20 minutes of overtime were rather uneventful as neither side wanted to give the other space to score the game-winning golden goal. The Hokies retreated into their defensive shape putting all nine remaining field players behind the ball and looked to hit Seton Hall on the counter attack as they did for most of regulation time. After both periods of overtime failed to produce a winner, the Hokies and Pirates were forced to decide a winner through the nerve-wracking penalty kick shootout.
Both sides scored their first penalty kicks of the shootout, but it would be Seton Hall's Koreichi who would have his penalty kick saved for the second time in the game in the second round of the shootout. Nota would redeem his teammate's missed opportunity by saving Landon Ameres' effort to start the third round, and Tibbling would tie things up at two penalties scored each immediately after.
Nota would go on to save the Hokies' fourth penalty kick as well, but the referees called for a redo after the linesman deemed that Nota stepped off his line too early. The redo was scored, and the first five rounds of penalties ended 4-4 to force an extra three sudden death rounds. Chris Little stepped up to take Virginia Tech's eighth penalty kick of the shootout, but his low drive hit the post and opened the window for Seton Hall to end the game.
Mans Saebbo was on his way up the field to take Seton Hall's eighth penalty kick, but Nota stepped out of goal to meet the freshman forward at the top of the box and wave him off the kick. The Italian goalkeeper signaled to the bench that he wanted to be the one to take the potentially game-winning penalty kick, and, eventually, Saebbo relinquished the opportunity to Nota.
With a swagger about his walk, Nota flattened the penalty spot with his cleats before placing the ball down and setting himself up for the run-up. He nearly ran to kick the ball before the referee blew his whistle, but he steadied himself again, waited for the sound of the whistle and proceeded to hammer the ball down the middle and into the roof of the net to send Seton Hall to the quarter finals.
The Pirates will meet the Indiana Hoosiers for the second time in the quarter finals of the College Cup on Monday, May 10 with the opportunity to redeem their 3-1 loss at the same stage in 1988 and advance to the semifinal for the first time in program history.
Justin Sousa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JustinSousa99.