The attack was not much different than so many others Indiana faced on a night when the Hoosiers played almost entirely with their backs to the wall.
Marshall junior midfielder Vitor Dias collected his own rebound on a shot off an Indiana defender, then took another left-footed shot just to IU goalkeeper Roman Celentano’s left.
Celentano got his hands on that one just like he had so many others in a performance that helped make him the College Cup’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player, but this time he didn’t knock the ball quite out of harm’s way. It hung around near the right post where Marshall forward Jamil Roberts just happened to be the closest person to it. Three Indiana defenders in the box stared helplessly and Celentano dove in vain as Roberts tapped it into the net with his right foot, sprinted to the corner and swan dived on the ground as the rest of the Thundering Herd and then, it seemed, the entire population of Huntington, W.Va., piled on top of him.
The goal came seven minutes into sudden-death overtime, giving Marshall a 1-0 win over Indiana and its first NCAA title in program history. It was also the Thundering Herd’s first national championship at the highest possible classification in any sport. Marshall owns two NCAA Football Championship Subdivision titles (1992 and 1996) and an NAIA national mens basketball championship (1947) but this is the first time they’ve been alone atop an NCAA Division I sport.
It was just their second NCAA Tournament appearance and the last one came in 2019, but with a roster that includes 22 players from outside the United States representing every inhabited continent on Earth, they claimed 1-0 victories over established powers Georgetown, North Carolina and Indiana to collect the title.
“I felt like we could do this, and I feel like 12 months ago we were the only ones who believed that,” said Roberts, a native of England who scored each of Marshall’s three goals in its last three games. “I don’t know about the rest of my teammates, but I’ve been laughed at for telling people we can win a national championship. It’s like, Marshall? Who? But, not bad for a little school from West Virginia with a bunch of internationals, eh?”
Meanwhile Indiana, the program with eight national titles appearing in its 16th national championship game and its 21st College Cup, leaves Cary, N.C. without its ninth star, marking its third voyage to the College Cup without a national title since its last crown in 2012.
Though the Hoosiers were the program with the much more rich tradition, there was never a point Monday when they seemed to be in control. Marshall dominated possession, registering 16 shots to Indiana’s eight, eight shots on goal to Indiana’s one and seven corner kicks to Indiana’s two. The Thundering Herd forced Indiana to play a troubling majority of the game under pressure.
But as the Hoosiers have done so many times this season and especially in the NCAA Tournament, they walled up close to the goal and made it difficult for Marshall to operate in the box. Celentano was spectacular as usual when the Herd did manage clean shots, registering seven saves. He finished with 23 saves in the NCAA Tournament and allowed just three goals. In the entire season, he gave up just six and never surrendered more than one in a game.
“They had a lot of international flair, similar to Pitt,” senior midfielder A.J. Palazzolo said. “We knew that they were going to have a lot of possession, a lot of the ball. The game plan, I think we played it well. We created a lot of chances, but we didn’t execute our chances, we defended our asses off. Marshall is a great side, but we worked our asses off and we did everything we could to win that game. That’s the hardest I’ve ever seen this team work. We just couldn’t find the moment to get that goal. We had belief, but they got a lucky goal there at the end.”
Most of the Hoosiers best chances came early but they had multiple attacks miss wide of the net. Defender Daniel Munie had a clean look on a header off a corner kick but missed wide and hit it off the right post on the best chance the Hoosiers had all night. It wasn’t an easy finish, but it was the best opportunity Indiana had. They kept hoping for lightning in a bottle like they got on Herbert Endeley’s goal to beat Pitt on Friday night but it never came.
Marshall made life extremely difficult on Indiana All-American Victor Bezerra, whose only NCAA Tournament goal came against St. Francis-Brooklyn in the Hoosiers’ first game of the tournament. He also had an assist against Marquette, but that was his last point, and he has put just two shots on goal since.
“Victor has carried us a lot,” Indiana coach Todd Yeagley said. “We have to have other guys be able to score goals whether that’s off re-starts or off play. We were close on a few. We had a few attacks stall where I thought that might have been one we had a chance on and it just didn’t come to fruition.”
And so Indiana’s ninth star didn’t come to fruition either, but Yeagley made a point to tell the Hoosiers to be proud of what they did accomplish. He admitted that he has had more talented teams, but this was one of his toughest and most adaptable, especially considering the hurdles they had to overcome in the Year of COVID-19. They finished the season 12-2-2, outscoring their opponents 31-6.
“To do the things this program has done, although it’s difficult in this moment, I told the guys that everyone’s proud of them,” Yeagley said. “When the time is right, they’ll be able to reflect on that. … They’ll be proud in the years ahead.”
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