Virginia bunkers in to capture 7th national title

College Cup

It wasn’t pretty and it was infuriating to watch at times, but a defensive-minded Virginia kept Leo Stolz and UCLA off the score sheet for 110 minutes and got a couple assists from the crossbar in a penalty shootout they won to capture the program’s seventh national title on Sunday afternoon.

It was Virginia’s first title since they beat Akron on penalties in the 2009 national championship game and the third time the program has won college soccer’s biggest prize through a penalty shootout. The title puts the Cavaliers one behind Indiana in third place on the list of College Cup titles; St. Louis leads the way with 10 titles (their last was in 1973).

Virginia’s win felt similar to Connecticut winning the basketball national championship in March because they underachieved during the season, were the No. 8 seed in the ACC tournament and just made the cut-off for the opening weekend bye as the No. 16 seed. Plagued by injuries throughout the season – Darius Madison missed the first three games of the season, Eric Bird was out for four games and Marcus Salandy-Defour has been out the whole season – head coach George Gelnovatch employed a defensive strategy that helped them knock off defending champs and No. 1 overall seed Notre Dame and 8th seeded Georgetown en route to the College Cup.

Madison’s fifth minute goal on Friday night against UMBC, the first conceded by the Retrievers in the tournament, was all the offense the Hoos ended up needing from the weekend, bunkering in for 195 minutes to beat UMBC and take the talented UCLA offense to penalty kicks after the scoreless draw. Madison showed offensive flashes on Sunday, but his playing time – 46 minutes in regulation and zero minutes in overtime – seemed to suggest that Virginia was playing for penalties.

Virginia goalkeeper Calle Brown’s 6-foot-5 frame may have played heavily into that get-to-penalty kicks strategy. Though he didn’t make a save in either tournament penalty kick shootout, his size surely had something to do with the three misses – one from Georgetown – and two from UCLA that all hit woodwork.

UCLA, the No. 2 overall seed, was seeking the program’s fifth title and first since 2002. Led by senior Leo Stolz, a two-time semifinalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy, the Bruins controlled possession and created a bulk of the game’s chances from the run of play. Talented forwards Abu Dunladi and Larry Ngjock, whose brace on Friday helped UCLA knock off Providence in overtime on Friday, both had chances but were mostly kept in check all afternoon by defender Kyler Sullivan and company. It was the first game of the tournament UCLA didn’t score at least two goals, but also the first time the Bruins defense didn’t concede.

Announced attendance for the final, held at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina, was 8,015 (last year’s final at PPL Park drew just 5,303). The College Cup returns to MLS stadiums for the next three years – Kansas City in 2015, Houston in 2016 and Philadelphia in 2017. The date of the College Cup could change as early as 2016 if a proposal to run the season through the fall and spring semesters for Division 1 is approved by the NCAA in February.

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