Sunday afternoon — when most of the student body was still away on Thanksgiving break — looked as if it might mark the end of the line for the historic 2012 Georgetown men’s soccer team (18-3-2, 6-2-0 Big East). Unseeded rival Syracuse (14-6-1, 5-3-0 Big East), playing its last year in the league, surged ahead in the 29th minute at NorthKehoe Field and still clung to that narrow 1-0 advantage with ten minutes to play.
But freshman striker Brandon Allen, as has become tradition this season, came up with another dramatic late goal, providing the equalizer in the 85th minute to send the game into overtime.
Then, after two scoreless OT periods, Head Coach BrianWiese finally got his long-awaited shootout, and his players did not disappoint — the Hoyas converted all four of their attempts from the spot, winning 4-2 to send their team through to the Elite Eight for the first time ever.
“I’m extremely proud of our coaching staff and our team and everyone associated with the program,” senior midfielder and co-captain Ian Christianson said afterward. “Obviously, we’ve made history, which is pretty cool, but for my class as seniors, I think it means the world to all of us. To see how far we’ve come from freshman year until now — and where the program’s going — is just really special.”
While the program’s trajectory may be on the rise, Christianson and his teammates still have work to do before they will have reached their goals in the present. A Saturday matchup with San Diego on the Hilltop is now all that stands between them and a trip to Hoover, Ala., for the College Cup.
That dream is one that was very much in danger of being prematurely derailed against the Orange.
With senior centerback Tommy Muller on the sidelines due to an injury sustained two days prior, junior defensive midfielder Joey Dillon slid into the back line to take Muller’s place, while senior John Snyder assumed Dillon’s usual role. The shift was not an altogether unfamiliar one for Dillon — who featured in central defense against Penn in late September — but Syracuse nonetheless punished the revamped defensive unit early.
Four minutes after Allen nearly opened the scoring himself, a Syracuse free kick in a dangerous area found the head of freshman midfielder Jordan Vale, who put it home to put his team up 1-0 before the half-hour mark. A change in strategy upon gaining that lead, however, would ultimately prove to be the Orange’s undoing.
“In a funny way, their getting the goal when they did was not a good thing for them,” Wiese said. “They really sat in and tried to absorb [the pressure] and say, ‘We’re going to win 1-0.’ And, in that way, they also almost neglected their transition [play] because they felt like, ‘Hey, we’ve done enough.’
“But with this group, we’ve only been shut out one time — and that was at Notre Dame — so we find ways to get goals.”
With Syracuse content to sit deep in their own half of the field, Georgetown’s attackers were free to use the remaining 71 minutes of regulation as target practice: A mere 4-3 first-half advantage in shots for the Blue and Gray turned into a colossal 12-1 disparity in the second.
Still, a strong performance from the Orange defense and freshman goalkeeper Alex Bono helped keep the Hoyas frustratingly off the board. Senior midfielder Andy Riemer and freshman right back Keegan Rosenberry, in particular, had their chances, but each would be denied to set the stage for Allen’s heroics.
The New Jersey native — who has a whopping ten game-winning goals to his credit in his rookie season — was once again in the right place at the right time, burying a shot into the back of the net with just over five minutes remaining following a scrum in front of goal.
“There’s no quit in these guys,” Wiese said. “There was never panic — there was urgency, but I don’t think they would’ve stopped believing until the horn sounded.”
Christianson confirmed his coach’s impression.
“That’s kind of been the story of our year — when things aren’t going our way, we just keep pressing, put our heads down and keep working, keep the ball in their half,” he said. “We had probably five or six good chances, and we could feel it coming. We just weren’t going to let up until it came.”
When it eventually came time for penalties — a situation for which the Hoyas have been preparing ever since missing two against Seton Hall — sophomore goalkeeper Tomas Gomez and the four shooters stepped up. An opening conversion from junior forward Steve Neumann and a subsequent Syracuse miss set the tone, as Georgetown coolly passed its gut check in a 4-2 win.
For a senior class that saw its seasons end on penalty kicks in both 2009 and 2010, Sunday brought a major dose of redemption.
“These guys have been through it a few times … and I think they were just fed up with losing, so they said, ‘We want another week of soccer,’” Wiese said. “And they did it.”
The Blue and Gray are one of three Big East teams remaining, along with fourth-seeded Connecticut and Red Division champs Louisville. Notre Dame, which received the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, was knocked out at home Sunday by Indiana.
2010 national champs Akron — coached by Portland Timbers coach-in-waiting Caleb Porter — were likewise upset Sunday, falling in a shootout to Creighton after having resided atop the national rankings for much of the year.
Having just escaped elimination, Georgetown will get a chance to further extend its season Saturday. Kickoff against San Diego is scheduled for 1 p.m. at North Kehoe Field.