Herbert Endeley’s goal sends Indiana to NCAA title game with 1-0 win over Pitt

Herbert Endeley had been preparing for a moment like this. One that could turn an entire game on its head and make everything that had happened before it completely irrelevant.

Soccer works that way sometimes. You can have the ball the majority of the time, create far more opportunities around the net and generally spend most of the game attacking your opponent’s goal, but if you don’t put anything in the back of the net, none of that matters.

“Sometimes the team that dominates,” Pittsburgh coach Jay Vidovich said, “doesn’t always win.”

So even though No. 3 seed Indiana spent much of the first 78 minutes of Friday night’s College Cup semifinal in Cary, N.C. against No. 2 Pitt holding on for dear life in its own end and narrowly avoiding disaster, Endeley saw an opportunity to change everything and he took it. The sophomore forward from Blaine, Minn., collected a pass near the right sideline, saw a path between two Pitt defenders and dribbled through it, started his kicking motion just before he entered the box with the ball still rolling and hit a rocket into the top right corner of the net.

Endeley’s fourth goal of the season and second in the NCAA Tournament gave the Hoosiers all the scoring they would need in a 1-0 win over Pitt. They advance to the NCAA championship game for the 16th time in program history where they will face Marshall at 8 p.m. Monday on ESPN2. A win would give the Hoosiers their ninth national championship.

“We’ve been working on a lot of finishing in practice,” Endeley said. “I knew that it could possibly take just one shot for us to win the game. I knew that. I was feeling that this could be the game. I just tried to split defenders and worked on the finishing we’d been working on in practice and all the small details. To me those added up today and helped us win the game.”

It was fitting for the Hoosiers that they had to win this way. Indiana coach Todd Yeagley has frequently said that this is not his most talented team and certainly not its most dominant, but that it is as good as any he’s had at finding different ways to win and never feeling like it’s been defeated.

The Panthers kept pressure on the Hoosiers all night and had several near misses at the goal. Indiana narrowly avoided an own goal in the first half and referees reviewed a Pitt shot from freshman Filip Mirkovic that hit off the cross bar and came down right in front of the goal line. They eventually ruled that it had not crossed over. All told, the Panthers registered 14 shots to Indiana’s seven and seven corner kicks to Indiana’s three.

Through all of that, Indiana never folded underneath the pressure even as the Hoosiers struggled to mount any kind of offensive attack of their own.

“The difference was our defensive principles in key moments and being able to take away some of the things they do really well,” Yeagley said. “The adaptability of this team is fantastic. The resilience is phenomenal.”

The Hoosiers defended well collectively in the box and made it difficult for the Panthers’ top scorers — Valentin Noel and Velijko Petkovic — to get the ball with clean looks at the goal.

“I thought they did a pretty good job once we broke them down to get in their low block,” Pitt junior midfielder Jackson Walti said. “Really defend the box. We always preach getting inside the box and serve passes in the box. We were just not able to get in those spaces. We were starting to come out wide which is not usually how we get our goals. I don’t necessarily think they did a great job of keeping the ball away from us. You saw we had most of the possession. But they definitely did a good job in the back, taking it up. A lot of our chances were from farther away than we usually get.”

And the best chances they did get were usually saved by Indiana goalkeeper Roman Celentano, who posted his ninth shutout and his 10th clean sheet of the season. He had two saves including a brilliant diving one to snag a header attempt from Noel late in the first half. He stopped other chances with athletic plays on corners away from the goal.

“Roman gives everyone confidence,” Yeagley said. “We feel that he’s the best keeper in the game. He’s able to take shots from distance, he doesn’t give much up on second-chances. … We’re just really fortunate to have Roman.”

And they’re fortunate to be moving on, one step from a ninth star. They face a surprise Marshall team that hasn’t lost a game since March 24 and took down North Carolina 1-0 on Friday.

“This team has been an absolute joy to coach in a tough year,” Yeagley said. “To be here with one game remaining is really special.”

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