CARY, N.C. — In the frigid cold, the penalty shootout between the Georgetown Hoyas and the Virginia Cavaliers seemed to last an eternity.
On the pitch at WakeMed Soccer Park, two of the top teams in the country battled to a 3-3 draw through 90 minutes. Through two periods of extra time, neither could muster up another score, while a handful of players dropped like flies due to cramps and muscle pulls. In the shootout, neither keeper had much luck early on, with the first six kick-takers on each side putting their goals away.
Aidan Rocha, the seventh penalty kicker for the Hoyas, would score on his attempt too. That shot would prove to be the game-winner as the Hoyas’ keeper, Thomas Romero, stepped up and swatted away Axel Gunnarsson’s attempt with both mitts.
“I just stuck to my instinct. I felt like I should’ve saved at least one of the other ones. I was kind of upset that I didn’t, but I didn’t dwell on it really,” Romero said. “For some reason I just thought he was going to go right, and I just dove right and saved it.”
For the first time ever, the No. 3 Georgetown Hoyas are the national champions of men’s NCAA Division I college soccer, winning the 2019 College Cup over No. 1 Virginia in front of an announced crowd of 8,413 fans. The final score was 3-3 (7-6) Sunday.
“My perception of it was that it was a great game and you need two really good teams to make that happen. I think you have to give UVA a ton of credit. They were an unbelievably hard team to deal with,” Hoyas’ head coach Brian Wiese said. “We’re ecstatic. Personally, I’m overjoyed for the players, I’m overjoyed for our program, our university.”
— NCAA Soccer (@NCAASoccer) December 16, 2019
The Hoyas (20-1-3) came into this match having the nation’s No. 7 offense and the No. 2 defense in terms of goals scored (2.39) and goals allowed (.478) per-game. While they allowed a goal in the ninth minute to Cavaliers’ midfielder Joe Bell, it was clear from the jump that the Hoyas were going to have the offensive firepower to compete with Virginia (21-1-2).
It also seemed obvious that much of this game was going to be a back-and-forth affair and played in transitions. Both teams were throwing punches, but not defending themselves.
“I bet it would’ve been enjoyable to watch as a neutral,” Bell said. “With such a short turnaround between the two games, I think it kind of sets the games up for a lot of transition… Seeing it go to penalties wasn’t that surprising.”
Six minutes after Bell’s strike, Paul Rothrock equalized for Georgetown, tapping in a ball from close range that Virginia’s keeper mishandled. Moments later, in the 21st minute, the Hoyas doubled their scoring total and grabbed the lead thanks to a strike from freshman defender Daniel Wu.
Off a free kick, the ball took a touch off a Hoya, then took a bounce before it was met with Wu’s right foot. The shot snuck past Virginia keeper Colin Shutler, giving the Hoyas an advantage.
It was the first career goal for Wu, who had put just two shots on-target all season in 21 starts. Wu is a local kid, having grown up in Cary. He also spent eight seasons playing in the North Carolina FC youth academy, so the pitches at WakeMed Soccer Park are familiar turf for him.
Wu would score his second career goal in the penalty shootout, burying the sixth shot for the Hoyas. He was also named to the College Cup All-Tournament Team.
“The ball was played in and I saw (Rio Hope-Gund) going up for it and I made the run towards him. I just had a feeling it was going to land there. And it just landed there and I was like, ‘Oh, shoot. I guess I’ll have to shoot this.’ And it just went in,” Wu said. “Rio and I were talking about me scoring a goal this season a few weeks back… And this was the moment I scored in.”
Virginia wasn’t done though. In the 57th minute, Daniel Steedman equalized for the ‘Hoos off a feed from Irakoze Donasiyano. Steedman fired from near the edge of the box and the shot sailed past a nearby defender and beat Romero to the far post.
Momentum swung again – but not for the final time – in the 80th minute, when Derek Dodson scored from open play for the Hoyas. The 6-foot junior from Aurora, Illinois outran two defenders, received a through ball Ifunanyachi Achara and then easily sliced the shot past Shutler.
But near the death of regulation, Daryl Dike would not be denied. Named the Most Outstanding Offensive Player in the College Cup, Dike positioned himself near goal on a free kick in the 85th minute. The ball bounced around after the initial service, but Gunnarsson served it back in toward goal for the ‘Hoos. Dike met the ball with his head, but it was halted by Romero. But off the deflection, Dike made sure he hit nothing but net, rifling the shot into the roof of the goal from close range for the equalizer for Virginia.
Dike raced toward the touchline, screaming, and leaped into the air and pumped his fist.
— NCAA Soccer (@NCAASoccer) December 16, 2019
It seemed like a moment that would change the match, like Virginia had swung the momentum for the final time. But the ‘Hoos couldn’t find another goal in regulation or extra time, and were simply unlucky on their seventh kick in a penalty shootout.
Through Virginia’s first 23 games, it had allowed just 10 goals and established itself as the stingiest defense in the country. Sunday was the first time in 2019 that the ‘Hoos had let three shots get by them in a single game.
“You can’t go against the facts. We got scored on three times today We were unfortunate on most of those plays,” Shutler said. “Just mental breakdowns here and there, myself included.”
Through it all, Georgetown stayed strong and stayed calm. After knocking at the door of the pinnacle of college soccer for the past decade, Sunday felt like validation for the Hoyas and the Big East.
While it’s Georgetown’s first men’s soccer title, it’s also just the third national championship the Catholic school in Washington, D.C. has ever captured in a team sport. The Hoyas won in men’s basketball in 1984 and women’s cross country in 2011.
“The equalizing goal was a kick to the teeth for us, but the mental resolve of this team showed itself really well,” Wiese said. “You don’t need to be in a Power 5 conference to do it, but you need a support structure that believes you can do it… You can’t take it away, so we have that forever now, which is nice.”