The third-seeded Georgetown men’s soccer team cemented its place in the history books Sunday night by defeating the top-seeded University of Virginia to win the first NCAA Division I National Championship in program history. The Hoyas earned the 7-6 victory in penalties after ending overtime play tied at three.
The Cavaliers (21-2-2, 6-1-1 ACC) entered the match Dec. 15 with a 10-game winning streak and sat in third for the most College Cup Championships with seven titles. The Hoyas (20-1-4, 7-0-2 Big East), having remained unbeaten in their last 16 matches, were fighting for their first-ever championship title. In front of over 8,000 spectators at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C., play began with intensity, and the Cavaliers soon secured the first lead of the game.
In the 10th minute, the Cavaliers grabbed an early lead courtesy of a goal from Missouri Athletic Club Hermann Award Finalist Joe Bell. The ball was cleared to Bell at the top of the box, and the midfielder fired a shot that deflected off Georgetown’s freshman defender and Cary native Daniel Wu. The deflection redirected the ball and left freshman goalkeeper Tomas Romero unable to recover in time as the ball found its way into the back of the net to give Virginia a 1-0 lead.
The Hoyas responded to the early deficit by dominating possession and generating chances going forward. This offensive pressure paid off quickly as Georgetown equalized in the 16th minute. Sophomore forward Zach Riviere played a cross in from the right wing that caused a miscommunication between Virginia goalkeeper Chris Shutler and midfielder Bret Halsey. The ball bounced near the six-yard box, where junior forward Paul Rothrock pounced on the opportunity and tied the game 1-1.
The Blue and Gray would claim its first lead of the game just six minutes later when Riviere stepped up to take a set piece. In the 22nd minute, Riviere played a free kick deep into the box to junior defender Rio Hope-Gund, who headed the ball back across the face of goal. Wu made a trailing run into the box and received the ball six-yards out, burying the ball into the goal with a one-time finish to propel the Hoyas to a 2-1 lead.
Throughout the remainder of the first half, both teams continued to trade chances but were unable to grab any more goals as the game entered halftime with the Hoyas leading 2-1.
Georgetown started the second half with multiple opportunities to notch a third goal. In the 52nd minute, junior forward Derek Dodson had a shot blocked, and moments later, following an ensuing corner kick, senior defender and Missouri Athletic Club Hermann Award Finalist Dylan Nealis had his shot saved by Shutler.
Despite the Hoyas’ efforts, the Cavaliers grabbed the next goal in the 58th minute off the foot of forward Daniel Steedman. The play originated from the Cavaliers’ defense, which combined to send the ball up through the midfield on the left wing. Steedman received a pass at the top of the box from forward Irakoze Donasiyano and rocketed a shot past Romero’s fingertips into the far post to tie the game at two apiece.
As the end of regulation neared, Georgetown seemed to have victory within grasp after an 81st-minute goal from Dodson. Wu began the scoring play by connecting with senior forward Achara down the left wing. Achara then sent in a leading ball to Dodson at the top of the box. Dodson received the pass on the run and slotted the ball past Shutler on the left side to give the Hoyas a 3-2 lead.
The Blue and Gray lead was short-lived, however, as the Cavaliers instantly began pressing Georgetown’s backline in search of the tying goal. They found the much-needed equalizer in the 86th minute after Virginia’s leading scorer, forward Daryl Dike, notched a goal from close range.
The goal resulted from a free kick from the right wing that was played in to forward Axel Gunnarsson, who stood unmarked near the far post. Gunnarsson then played the ball back across the face of the goal toward Dike, whose initial header was blocked by junior midfielder Foster McCune. Dike pounced on the rebound from close range and buried the second-chance shot to tie the game 3-3 and send the match to overtime.
In the first overtime period, both keepers came up with saves to keep the match from ending in sudden victory. First, Shutler saved a powerful half-volley from Rothrock at the far post in the 94th minute. Minutes later, Romero came up big for the Hoyas in the 97th minute when he made a diving save on a shot from outside the box from Donasiyano.
In the second overtime period, Georgetown began to gain momentum as the team recorded three shots and three corners in 10 minutes while holding Virginia to just one corner. Neither the Hoyas nor the Cavaliers, however, were able to notch a golden goal in overtime and the game headed to a shootout.
As the pressure mounted, the Blue and Gray sent out their penalty kick lineup, notably lacking both Dodson and Nealis who were out due to injuries. On the national stage, the Hoyas were clinical in their execution and buried all five of their penalty kicks. Virginia matched Georgetown’s efforts, putting away their first five penalties to send the game to sudden death. In the sixth round of the shootout, Wu scored for the Hoyas and Halsey scored for the Cavaliers.
As cheers roared from the thousands of fans in the stands, freshman midfielder Aidan Rocha took to the penalty mark for the Hoyas in the seventh round of penalty kicks. Rocha slipped the ball into the bottom right corner as Shutler dove toward the left post, tallying Georgetown’s seventh goal. With the game on the line, Virginia’s Gunnarsson lined up the ball for the Cavaliers’ seventh penalty kick. Gunnarsson struck the ball toward the left side of the net just as Romero dived toward the post, blocking the shot and clinching Georgetown’s first national championship.
The 7-6 victory in penalty kicks proves historic on several levels: Georgetown’s 20th win of the season sets a new program record, the 3-3 finish against Virginia is the highest-scoring national championship match since 1980 and the Hoyas’ three goals against the Cavaliers are the most conceded by Virginia this season. The victory also marks the first time Virginia has lost in overtime in the College Cup Final, having won both of their overtime national championship matches in 2009 and 2014.
For his efforts, Nealis was named the Defensive Most Outstanding Player of the tournament while Dodson, Rothrock, Wu and sophomore midfielder Sean Zawadski all earned recognition on the All-Tournament team.
The victory gives Georgetown its third-ever NCAA National Championship trophy, joining wins from men’s basketball in 1984 and women’s cross country in 2011.