Los Angeles Soccer: Scott Goodwin
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.”
GOLETA -- It's No. 1 against No. 2.
Top-ranked Louisville and second-ranked Akron offered scintillating displays in Friday's NCAA College Cup semifinals at UC Santa Barbara's Holder Stadium, but both needed a bit of fortune -- and a late goal -- to claim berths in Sunday afternoon's final.
Louisville (20-0-3) was most impressive against North Carolina, creating far more opportunities but waiting until the end to pull out a 2-1 decision. Akron (21-1-2) was far more dominant against upstart Michigan, spending huge swaths of time in and in front of the Wolverines' box, but it took a defensive miscue to pull out a 2-1 victory and gain a repeat trip to the title game.
Bests, worsts and so forth:
BEST PLAYER: Lot of candidates -- Louisville's Chris Rolfe and Ryan Smith, Michigan's Justin Meram, a whole host of guys from Akron: midfielders Michael Nanchoff, Anthony Ampaipitakwong and Perry Kitchen, forward Darlington Nagbe and defender Zarek Valentin, etc. -- but Kofi Sarkodie was sensational from start to finish.
He set the tone for nearly everything Akron did: His forays up the right flank and into Michigan's box (he spent more time there than anyone, perhaps, aside from Wolverines goalkeeper Chris Blais) drove the attack; his physical play -- not always clean, to be sure -- kept Michigan honest; and he capped the performance with the winning goal, a fine header from Nanchoff's cross in the 74th minute.
BEST GOAL: After scoring with 52 seconds to play to beat UCLA in the quarterfinals, could it get any better for Aaron Horton? Oh, yeah. Three minutes after coming on for All-American Rolfe, the Louisville freshman took a defense-splitting pass from Smith and chipped Scott Goodwin -- lifting the top-ranked Cardinals into the final … with just 51 seconds to go.