Los Angeles Soccer: Charlotte
Ben Speas, who transferred to UNC after winning an NCAA crown last year with Akron, scored on a stunning, looping 25-yard shot midway through the second half, and the top-seeded Tar Heels (21-2-3) held off a late onslaught for a 1-0 victory over the 49ers (16-5-4).
It's Carolina's second men's soccer title, to go with one won 10 years ago, and came in the program's fourth straight College Cup final-four appearance.
UCLA stood five minutes from a chance to play for another NCAA soccer championship. Turns out their destiny led somewhere else.
The Bruins on Friday night twice watched leads slip away in the second half, lost their homecoming hero to heavy cramps, then came up wanting at the finish, falling to top-seeded North Carolina on penalties following a 2-2 draw in a Division I men's semifinal in Hoover, Ala., outside Birmingham.
The third-ranked Tar Heels (20-2-3), making their fourth successive College Cup final-four appearance, advance to Sunday's title game against Charlotte (16-4-4), which beat No. 2 Creighton on penalties in the first semifinal.
It was a devastating end for fourth-ranked (but 13th-seeded) UCLA (18-4-2), which dominated stretches of the match with a possession game that wearied North Carolina, went ahead on superb goals by Ryan Hollingshead in the 17th minute and Kelyn Rowe in the 74th, then conceded a late equalizer to All-American Billy Schuler.
“It was so close tonight, it could have gone either way,” UCLA head coach Jorge Salcedo told ESPN Los Angeles after the game. “To win win a game, you need to have a little bit luck, a little bit skill. We had skill but no luck tonight.”
It was a marvelous encounter, full of incident, featuring great drama, massive momentum swings, great individual performances on both sides, some beautiful soccer -- especially by UCLA the latter part of the first half -- and four stunning goals.
All-American striker Chandler Hoffman, a Birmingham boy playing before family and friends, assisted both UCLA strikes but wasn't in position to score himself, thanks to expert work by North Carolina All-American Matt Hedges.
His departure with a hamstring injury in overtime -- “I was cramping like I've never cramped before,” he reported -- deprived the Bruins of their best finisher in the closing minutes and in the penalty-kick shootout, when they really missed him.
North Carolina won the tiebreaker, 3-1, with three of the Bruins' four shots taken poorly. Andy Rose and Rowe didn't get the ball close enough to the posts on the first two rounds, leaving simple stops for goalkeeper Scott Goodwin. Victor Munoz went up the middle to score on the third round, but Fernando Monge fired well wide left with the fourth shot, and Ben Speas -- an NCAA champion last year at Akron -- followed with the decisive kick.
“Unfortunately, when you miss the first one, it doesn't set a good tone,” Salcedo said. “But we didn't lose because we took poor penalty kicks. It's not one player, not one call, not one penalty kick in soccer that decides whether you win or lose. It's just the overall game.”
The NCAA College Cup kicks off Friday afternoon in Hoover, Ala., with No. 2 Creighton taking on surprise semifinalist Creighton in the 3 p.m. PST opener. No. 4 UCLA meets No. 3 North Carolina in the second game, at 5:30 p.m.
The title game is Sunday at 1 p.m. All three games will be shown live on ESPNU.
Here's a quick rundown on the final four:
- UCLA (18-4-1)
The Bruins lost in the quarterfinals the past two years, but a shift to a pure possession attack -- with style as or more important than results -- has taken UCLA to a different level. Junior forward Chandler Hoffman gets to finish a spectacular campaign, in which he's netted 18 goals to head a dynamic attack, at home: He's from Birmingham.
Pacific 12 MVP Kelyn Rowe adds attacking dimensions off the bench and Englishman Andy Rose provides a midfield foundation around which the Bruins revolve. And they might be at their strongest at the back, where goalkeeper Brian Rowe has posted eight straight shutouts -- keeping his sheet clean for 747 minutes, 40 seconds.
- NORTH CAROLINA (20-2-2)
The Tar Heels reached the title game three years ago and lost in the semifinals the past two years, and now first-year coach Carlos Samoano -- promoted when Elmar Bolowich moved to Creighton -- looks to take them to a second title 11 years after the first. They bring in a nine-game winning streak, with six of the victories, including the last two, by shutout.
LOS ANGELES -- Chandler Hoffman was heading home to Birmingham, and he was bringing a couple dozen of his best college buddies with him.
They hope to return to L.A. with an NCAA trophy.
Hoffman, a sure-to-be All-American striker, leads UCLA into this weekend's College Cup men's soccer final four in Hoover, Ala., where the Bruins figure to be a fan favorite, with all of his family and friends filling seats.
“Man, my phone has been blowing up. Facebook has been blowing up,” Hoffman said as the Bruins prepared for Friday night's semifinal showdown with top-seeded North Carolina. “Everyone's excited to come out. It should be like a home game for UCLA.”
This is what Hoffman has envisioned since word arrived earlier this year that the College Cup would be played in Birmingham's suburbs. Now that it's here -- and the Bruins are there -- he can barely contain his excitement.
“I'm so waiting for someone to pinch me and wake up,” he said. “It just feels like a dream.”
That dream comes true if UCLA (18-4-1) overcomes the Tar Heels (20-2-2), then knocks off second-seeded Creighton (21-2-0) or Charlotte (16-4-3) in Sunday's final. It would be the fifth NCAA men's soccer title in school history, and it would fulfill Jorge Salcedo's dream, too.
The Bruins' head coach has been part of three UCLA titles -- as a ballboy in 1985, a freshman midfielder in 1990 and an assistant coach in 2002 -- and came close to winning another in his third season in charge of the program.
“It would mean so much,” said Salcedo, who played for four Major League Soccer clubs, including the Galaxy, and Morelia in Mexico. “I quietly always hope that it's going to happen, and now, once again, we have another chance. The loss [to UC Santa Barbara in the final] in 2006 left a bitter taste in my mouth, because we were a good team back then, I think ready to win a championship. But I think we're even more ready now as a program to win one.”
The Bruins have ample talent, extraordinary depth -- especially in attack -- and solid upperclass leadership, and there's that destiny thing at work, too. At least Hoffman believes so.
Ethan Finlay's team-best 14th goal seven minutes into overtime lifted second-ranked Creighton (21-2-0) to a 1-0 victory over No. 12 South Florida (13-4-4) in a game postponed a day following heavy snowfall Saturday in Omaha.
Unseeded Charlotte (16-4-3), ranked 14th in the coaches' poll, overcame No. 5 Connecticut (19-3-3) on penalties following a 1-1 draw in Storrs, Conn.
Tony Cascio volleyed the third-seeded Huskies ahead in the 82nd minute, but Giuseppe Gentile's strike following a free kick three minutes later saved Charlotte, which outfired UConn, 4-2, after 20 minutes of scoreless overtime.
Creighton and Charlotte will meet in Friday's semifinal opener in Hoover, Ala., a suburb of Birmingham. No. 4 UCLA (18-4-1), a 1-0 winner in overtime Saturday night at Louisville, will face top-seeded, third-ranked North Carolina (20-2-2) in the later semi, slated for a 5:30 p.m. PST start.
In women's action:
- Teresa Noyola's goal eight minutes into the second half lifted No. 1 Stanford (25-0-1) to a 1-0 victory over Duke (22-4-1) in the NCAA Division I women's final in Kennesaw, Ga. The Cardinal's senior class -- including defender Camille Levin (Newport Coast/Tarbut V'Torah Community Day School) -- finished with a 95-4-4 record, with the final three losses coming in the 2008 NCAA semifinals and the 2009 and 2010 title games. Stanford is the eighth school to win an NCAA women's title, joining North Carolina (20 times), Notre Dame (three), Portland (two), Florida, Santa Clara, USC and George Mason.
The Bruins got everything they wished for Sunday, romping to a 3-0 third-round triumph over visiting Rutgers to set up a quarterfinal showdown with Louisville, which kept them from the College Cup final four last year and won a season-opening showdown in August.
Chandler Hoffman netted his 17th and 18th goals of the season, the first just 42 seconds after kickoff, and fourth-ranked UCLA (17-4-1) advanced to the elite eight for the third straight year with an emphatic victory at Drake Stadium in front of an audience that included former Rutgers star Alexi Lalas and Seattle Sounders coach Sigi Schmid and technical director Chris Henderson, both of whom have UCLA roots.
Victor Chavez (Fontana/A.B. Miller HS) tallied just before halftime, knocking home the rebound after Scarlet Knights goalkeeper Kevin McMullen parried a sizzling Kelyn Rowe shot from an abrupt angle, and Hoffman completed his fourth multigoal game of the campaign with a volley four minutes into the second half.
“I thought that we played well,” said Hoffman, who will be heading home to Birmingham, Ala., for the College Cup final four with a victory Saturday night at Louisville (14-6-2). “Scoring that goal in the opening munute was huge. Last week, we let Delaware hang around for way too long [in a 1-0 second-round victory], put us under a lot of pressure. So tonight we wanted to put them away early.”
Hoffman did that with his first touch, clinically finishing Patrick Matchett's ball across the box after a Ryan Hollingshead run from midfield. Hoffman also played the ball to Rowe to set up Chavez's 44th-minute goal, and Rowe and Hollingshead had assists on Hoffman's finale.
“[Hoffman has] a huge desire to put the team on his back and get us to College Cup and his hometown. What more can you ask for?” UCLA coach Jorge Salcedo said. “The goals that he scores, his hold-up play, his intelligence on the field have all be extremely helpful. ... He's in a great moment right now.”