Men's Soccer Season Ends with Extra Time Heartbreak
The DU Men's Soccer team lost at CIBER field for the first time in almost two years tonight in a thrilling 1-0 AET NCAA Tournament second round match with SMU. In the 94th minute, a long SMU throw-in found Stanton Garcia in a dangerous spot in the box in front of the net and he buried his only shot of the game to end the Pioneers' season.
"When we got into overtime, I immediately wrote down my penalty-takers because I thought it was going there," SMU coach Kevin Hudson said after the game. "We generated a chance down low and we put it in a dangerous spot and [Garcia] tucked it home."
The Pioneers controlled much of the play through the first 90+ minutes. SMU generated a few chances, but it was DU who asked more questions of SMU's back end. The Pioneers outshot the Mustangs 14-9 in the game, and generated 13(!) corner kicks, 8 of which came in the first half.
There was a stretch of play in the first half when it seemed inevitable that DU was going to break through and get on the scoreboard, but the Mustangs defense held on at the last second nearly every time and kept the ball out of the net. During this stretch, DU had 5 or 6 corners in a row but they just couldn't find anyone on the end of the cross.
SMU was able to generate a few decent chances in front of DU's net, but still went into halftime without forcing Pios goalie Dan Jackson to make a save. The only genuine chance the Mustangs were able to muster clanged high off the crossbar giving the 1,013 fans in attendance a jolt, but the ball stayed out and the score remained tied.
The second half was a bit calmer than the first half was, but Denver still controlled most of the play during the second 45 minutes. Both teams' defenses remained strong and stopped every chance either team generated. Even as regulation was coming to a close and both teams were sending more long balls into the box, defense reigned supreme and extra time seemed inevitable.
In the last 10 minutes, the Pios nearly broke through with a goal a few times, but just missed the target by inches every time. At one point, the ball fell to Karsten Hanlin's feet just inside the penalty area and he took a shot, but it sailed just over the crossbar. Soon after that chance, a Kenny Akamatsu corner found Jordan Schweitzer at the far post but Schweitzer's header just missed wide right.
That was the story of the game for Denver. They dominated play throughout the night, but they just couldn't break through and they couldn't force SMU's goalkeeper out of position. Finally extra time came and SMU was the team that finally capitalized on a great scoring chance in front of the net to win the game.
"When you put in the amount of work [the Pioneers] did, the more it hurts," DU coach Jamie Franks said after the game. "The reason why it hurts is, it's an honest effort. And anytime that you do have an honest effort like that, you can walk out with your head held high."
Coach Franks told his players "I know it doesn't feel like that now, there's an emptiness in their stomachs, they're gutted, but the program will be stronger as a result."
He's not wrong. This year's Pioneers squad was the best Denver has ever seen. This was the first time in program history that they had advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament and they were the last remaining unbeaten team in the country. The college soccer world noticed and recruits saw what Denver can do on the soccer pitch.
"Soccer is unfair. That's the reality of the sport."
Coach Franks is right. The better soccer team lost tonight's match. On paper, it should be DU getting ready to fly to Akron, Ohio to take on the #4 seeded Zips in the Elite 8. Instead, thanks to a lucky play for SMU down low in the penalty area, the team that was outworked, outhustled, and outplayed is moving on.
Soccer is unfair. Sports are unfair. Yet that's why we love them. It's irrational.
The future of this program is extremely bright. With the leadership of Coach Franks, there is little doubt that the Pios will be competing on the national stage for years to come. It hurts tonight, but the program is better now that it ever has been.
Notes: SMU goalkeeper Michael Nelson was the AAC goalkeeper of the year; Winning goal scorer Stanton Garcia played only 69 minutes; DU forced Nelson to make 6 saves on the night while SMU only mustered 2 shots on net, one of which was saved by Jackson; SMU committed 11 fouls on the night while DU committed 8; SMU received two yellow cards on the night (Jared Rice and Mauro Cichero) while DU was booked only once (Reagan Dunk); The Pioneers ended the year 15-1-3 in Coach Franks' first year as head coach; Tonight's loss ended the Pios' 29 match home unbeaten streak which was the longest active streak and the 11th longest in NCAA history.