Courtesy of UofRathletics.com
GREENSBORO, NC – A banner season for the University of Rochester came to an end with a 3-1 loss to 2nd-ranked Tufts University in the National Semifinals of the 2018 NCAA Division III Men’s Soccer Championship on Friday afternoon at the UNC-Greensboro Soccer Stadium.
Rochester ends the season with a 16-3-2 mark, tying the school record for wins in a season. Tufts, national champions in 2014 and 2016, remains unbeaten at 17-0-3 and will play Calvin College for the national title on Saturday afternoon.
Joe Braun had a hand in all three Tufts goals, scoring the opening goal and assisting on the two other tallies by Gavin Tasker and Zach Lane. UR’s Aidan Miller scored off a set piece from Ulrik Koren and Bryce Ikeda in the 72nd minute, helping the Yellowjackets avoid the shutout.
At 6:40 of the opening half, UR’s Ikeda sent a service from the right wing towards the Jumbo net, and saw it mishandled by keeper Conner Mieth, but nobody in a blue UR jersey was there for the loose ball.
In the 15th minute, Tufts countered a UR attack with one of its own and earned two shots, coming off the feet of Tasker and Brett Rojas. Both ended up being blocked away, the second was a good chance which was cleared by first-year defender Will Eisold.
Tufts broke the scoreless draw in the 22nd minute. UR’s Patrick Conway made a terrific save on Braun in the minute prior, but Braun was able to connect on a header off the ensuing corner kick from Travis Van Brewer, outjumping the Yellowjacket defense and directing his shot into the low left corner of the net.
The Jumbos countered a UR attack and earned a 2-on-1 breakaway in the 26th minute, with Tasker connecting on a give-and-go with Braun, but Conway came up big with a diving stop keeping it a one goal game.
“I was pretty pleased with the way the boys dug in and kept it a one goal game at the end of the first half,” said head coach Chris Apple. “I knew that in the second half if we played Rochester soccer then we would be able to get back into the game.”
In the 33rd minute, a long Ikeda throw-in deflected right to the foot of Koren inside of the box for Rochester. But the juniors volley attempt from straight on was blocked.
Tufts had a pair of chances in the waning minutes of the first half with both flick headers sailing just wide of the UR net.
At intermission the jumbos held an 8-3 shot advantage while also taking both of the corner kicks in the opening 45 minutes.
“Tufts came out very aggressive, playing with an intensity we didn’t match in the early going,” said UR’s Ikeda after the loss. “They had some great defensive players and were up for the challenge.”
The first chance of the second half led to a goal for the 2nd-ranked Jumbos. A breakout along the right side by Braun drew the defense to the All-American, leaving Tasker unmarked in the middle of the field. The pass into space led Tasker perfectly and he finished for the 2-0 Tufts lead.
Rochester had an excellent chance on its first corner kick of the game in the 59th minute off the foot of Mitch Volis. The ball from the right corner curled in and made its way through the entire penalty area untouched by both teams, eventually getting cleared away by the Jumbos.
The lead increased to 3-0 in the 61st minute. Braun again started the play in the midfield, dishing out to Lane along the right wing who then cracked a left footed curling shot sneaking just inside the left post, past the outstretched arms of Conway in the UR goal.
“In the second half we realized it was a battle, we needed to bring it to them and keep driving,” said Ikeda.
Rochester really found its groove after getting behind by three, generating some of the games best chances from the 63rd minute on. Wingers Patrice Douge on the left side and Nik Angyal and Josh Cooley from the right side were consistently sending in dangerous crosses, but they were unable to connect in front to crashing forwards Koren and Miller.
At the 71 minute mark, UR was able to break through. A corner kick from the left side by Ikeda was flicked by Koren at the near post to an open Miller in front who was there for the header finish, his sixth tally of the season.
“Once we got the ball in the net, I thought we were going to keep going and find our stride and keep putting them in the net,” explained Miller.
Ninety seconds later, a high ball in the Tufts end of the field got deflected right to Miller but his shot wasn’t a clean connection and Mieth was able to make the stop, diving to his left.
“I felt like we just needed to get that second goal, even if there was only four or five minutes left, it would have been real interesting at the end of the game,” said the UR coach. “They are a real good team and I was proud of the way the boys fought until the end.”
UR’s Eisold then made another outstanding play, denying Lane another goal in the 81st minute when he cleared a ball directly off the line following a top of foot blast from 16 yards out.
Following the team save, the Yellowjackets countered and earned another corner, taken by Ikeda. The ball came in short but Douge couldn’t control the shot with the top of his foot and the attempt sailed high of the net.
Rochester kept fighting until the final horn, with Zach Lawlor earning a point blank shot off a slip pass from Miller in the closing seconds, one which was saved by Mieth, keeping the final score 3-1.
The final tally saw Tufts with a 14-7 shot advantage with both teams taking three corners. Conway finished with five saves in the UR goal while Tufts’ Mieth finished with one save.
“They’ve taken the program to a place we’ve never been before, and for this group that gets us to our first final four is really special,” said Apple of the 2018 squad. “I am really proud of them and they raised the bar for every team that comes after them.”