Despite a raucous student showing and outshooting the Gusties 19-8 over the course of the MIAC playoff final, the Men’s Soccer team were stopped in their quest to secure the MIAC playoff championship last Saturday at Bell Field.
After 110 minutes of scoreless play, the regular season co-champions of the MIAC needed penalties to settle the score, and Gustavus goalie Brett Ylonen ’15 saved the seventh Carleton penalty to give Gustavus the MIAC’s automatic qualifier to the NCAA tournament.
The agony of defeat from Saturday was quickly replaced with joy and excitement on Monday afternoon, as Carleton was not only selected as one of 62 teams in the NCAA tournament, but was also elected to host both the first and second round games this weekend at Bell Field.
Following their 2-0 victory over St. John’s midweek, and Gustavus beating St. Thomas 1-0 in St. Peter, it was fitting that the MIAC regular season co-champions met in the most important MIAC fixture of the season. Carleton came into the match on the back of six consecutive shutouts and having gone unbeaten since their only loss of the season back on September 14th against St. John’s.
Meanwhile, Gustavus was looking for revenge following their 3-0 loss to the Knights earlier this season, and there was no better time to strike back than in the MIAC playoff final.
The Knights started on the right foot, and were inches away from getting a sixth minute goal.
A mishit clearance from a Gustavus defender gave Will Corcoran ’14 an uncontested header on goal that was parried away by Ylonen, and senior Derek Funk’s left-footed volley was cleared off the line by a Gustavus defender to keep the game scoreless.
A flurry of corners for both sides kept Ylonen and James Neher ’14 busy throughout the half, but Carleton still remained dangerous in the attack and almost took the lead in the 43rd minute.
A booming punt from Neher was expertly settled by Branden McGarrity ’16, who quickly turned and hit a laser from just over 35 yards out.
His bullet sailed over Ylonen and seemed destined for the net, but it smashed off the crossbar, leaving the Knights and Gusties goalless going into halftime.
The game remained even until the 53rd minute, when Gustavus forward Zach Brown ’15 was fouled inside the box to give Gustavus a penalty kick and a golden opportunity to get the game’s opening goal. Grant Steine ’13 stepped up to the spot and sent his shot to the right side of the net, but Neher was quick to react and made a diving save. His save went back out to Steine at the corner of the six yard box, and the senior was able to get his second effort past Neher only for it to canon back off the post and give Carleton a second lease on life in the match.
The save ignited both the Carleton fans in the stands and the players on the field, but the Knights were unable to get past Ylonen for the rest of the half, so the game went into overtime. Both overtime periods were low on scoring chances, with the best chance coming from a twenty yard effort by McGarrity that forced Ylonen into a smart save. After two scoreless overtime periods, a penalty shootout became the only means of finding a winner and the MIAC’s automatic qualifier to the NCAA tournament.
Both teams could not find the back of the net during regulation, but the initial five shooters for each team were perfect in their penalty attempts. Gustavus’ first shooter was David Lilly ’15, who placed his effort low to the left, just beyond Neher’s reach. Captain Alex Voorhees ’13 hit a firm shot to the left as well to keep the scores level at one.
Neher again guessed right on the second Gustavus penalty, but the shot was just beyond his grasp. Corcoran sent Ylonen the wrong way to bring the tally to 2-2. Defenders Lucas Thompson ‘13 and Neil Bartholomay ’14 were next to shoot, and both center-backs cooly dispatched their efforts into the back of the net to leave the score at 3-3. Neher got a good touch of the next Gustavus kick, but his parry was not firm enough and squeaked into the side netting to give the Gusties a brief lead, only for Brian Rhodes ’13 to convert his try.
The mind games rose for the Gusties’ fifth kick, as Steine, who had previously missed his penalty in regulation that would have given Gustavus the lead, stepped up to be Gustavus’ fifth and final taker. Steine made up for his failed attempt in regulation and sent Neher the wrong way. With the game and the MIAC playoff championship on the line, McGarrity stepped up to spot to keep the Knights in the game. Despite Ylonen’s best efforts to unnerve the Illinois native, the first-year sent Ylonen the wrong way to send the shootout into sudden death.
Bryan Bjork ’13 and Ginet converted their efforts to bring the shootout to a seventh round. Zach Brown sent Neher the wrong way to give Gustavus a 7-6 lead, and Ylonen made a diving save to his right and deflected the ball off the post to give Gustavus the penalty shootout victory.
Despite the frustration following the shootout loss, the Knights were buoyed by the news from the NCAA on Monday afternoon. Not only was Carleton selected to play in the NCAA tournament, but they were named the host of the first and second round games for their four-team pod. Two games will take place on Saturday, with the winners of Saturday’s contests playing on Sunday to determine who advances to the “Sweet Sixteen”.
Carleton will play Carroll University in the first contest on Saturday, with the game set for a 11 AM kickoff. Following that match, Gustavus will return to the site of the MIAC playoff win and will face Wisconsin-Platteville at 1:30 PM. Sunday’s match will take place at 1:30 pm.
Author’s Note: As a player, there is nothing better than seeing a packed, enthusiastic crowd on Bell Field cheering on the Knights to victory. The energy of the crowd was fantastic for both playoff games this week, and Saturday in particular was an electric atmosphere. We will need the same type of passion and excitement this weekend as the Knights look to make a run deep into the NCAA tournament. It is the “business end” of the season, as every game now is win or go home, so come to Bell Field this weekend and cheer on the Men’s soccer team as they look to make more history in what has already been a historic season!