For the tenth time this season, sophomore goalkeeper Roman Celentano left the field Friday night without allowing a goal.
He tied Marshall University’s Oliver Semmle for the NCAA lead, but due to scheduling, Semmle and the Thundering Herd have played in 17 games compared to IU and Celentano’s 15.
“I don’t think there’s anyone better than him in college at his position,” sophomore forward Herbert Endeley said after the game.
Guided by another clean sheet from Celentano, No. 3 seed IU defeated No. 2 seed Pittsburgh 1-0 Friday night in Cary, North Carolina, to advance to the College Cup National Championship. It will be the program’s 16th title game with a chance for its ninth star.
Facing a dangerous Pittsburgh offense led by sophomore midfielder and MAC Hermann finalist Valentin Noel, Celentano needed to be sharp. The Panthers controlled the midfield for most of the game and were knocking on the door with consecutive close chances.
Just before halftime, Noel freed himself in the box for a fairly open header. He flicked it bottom left, but Celentano reacted quickly and squeezed it, not allowing a rebound.
Then in the 67th minute, Pittsburgh threatened again.
Noel found more open space for a header, but it deflected off sophomore defender Brett Bebej’s back and dribbled past the endline for a corner. The Hoosiers’ defense had trouble clearing a well-curved service, but were saved by Celentano diving in front of him to eliminate any shot on goal.
“Roman gives everyone around him confidence,” head coach Todd Yeagley said. “He allows your defenders to be a bit more aggressive in the sense of their one-v-one moments.”
Early on, the usually reliable IU defense seemed a little shaky against Pittsburgh’s offensive talent. The one-on-one defense was solid, but the Panthers had numerous close calls with crosses that the Hoosiers normally clear with ease.
“Our box defending could’ve been a bit better today,” Yeagley said. “I was a little bit disappointed.”
But as the game progressed, Yeagley felt more confident in how the back line performed. The Hoosiers did not concede a shot on goal in the second half, even though it might have seemed like Pittsburgh kept on knocking.
“The difference was our defensive principles in key moments,” Yeagley said.
Since Pittsburgh controlled possession for most of the game, IU’s offense did not look as powerful as it has in past games. Sophomore forward and MAC Hermann finalist Victor Bezerra was a non-factor in the first half, and missed his best chance just a bit right in the 57th minute.
It took 78 minutes for a goal to be scored, but it was a beauty.
Endeley took it from the far right side, split two defenders and fired a rocket top right to break the tie. It was a very tight angle, but the velocity was enough to breeze by Pittsburgh graduate student goalkeeper Nico Campuzano for Endeley’s 4th goal on the season.
“I knew that it could possibly just take one shot for us to win the game,” Endeley said.
IU will face Marshall University at 8 p.m. Monday in Cary, North Carolina, for the championship. The Thundering Herd shut out the UNC 1-0 Friday night despite being outshot 11-1.
Compounding the high stakes victory with the most fans IU has played in front of all season, Yeagley says this match will always stick out.
“This was the most enjoyable game of the year,” Yeagley said.