At the halftime of No. 3 IU men’s soccer’s College Cup game against the No. 2 University of Pittsburgh, the Hoosiers found themselves in a scoreless tie, just where they wanted to be.
Pittsburgh, the national leader with 51 goals, was pressing IU’s defense in an attempt to open enough space to score. It came tantalizingly close several times, including a one-on-none shot that went over the goal and a header that sophomore keeper Roman Celentano dove to save.
But IU’s defense, which entered the game second in the nation in team goals against average, didn’t allow Pittsburgh to break through. Each try at net was turned away or met with an IU defender.
“We knew we could press them at times,” head coach Todd Yeagley said in a postgame Zoom conference. “Just say, you know what? You can have it in those areas but when you come here we’re going to do our best to lock it down and make sure they don’t get high quality chances.”
Although it didn’t have a shot on goal in 45 minutes, IU was sitting in a good spot. All it would take was one opportunity.
In the 79th minute, sophomore forward Herbert Endeley sprinted by Pittsburgh’s defense and earned IU its one chance to strike. Endeley’s shot found a near impossible angle and gave IU a 1-0 lead.
IU’s 1-0 victory over Pittsburgh propelled it into its 16th national championship game in program history.
“This [team] has been a joy to coach,” Yeagley said. “A tough year. To be here with one game remaining is really special.”
Pittsburgh nearly opened the scoring in the 58th minute with a shot that hit off the crossbar and bounced straight down on the line and out. The game was paused to give the referees a chance to review the goal via the video assistant referee and it was waved off.
“That was the first time in a game that I’ve seen the VAR have to be used for the line,” Pittsburgh’s junior midfielder Jackson Walti said. “The soccer gods weren’t looking down on us today.”
That inability to finish became a theme that revolved more around Pittsburgh than IU with the myriad of chances the Panthers had. Whether the ball went off the crossbar, over the net or even just wide off an IU defender, Pittsburgh was unable to finish all game.
It made Endeley’s finish that much more important, and allowed an IU team that was outshot 14-7 to capitalize on one of two shots on goal to move into the national championship.
The goal showed off Endeley’s skills — his natural speed and the ones he’s been working on perfecting.
“He’s worked so hard on his finishing,” Yeagley said. “He’s always been an unbelievable imbalancer but now his finishing is coming around.”
Despite playing in Cary, North Carolina, IU had a crowd with fans behind them for the first time all season.
“The energy was very contagious,” Endeley said. “We felt it and it felt really nice to play in front of fans. It’s been a very long time.”
Yeagley said it was the most enjoyable game of the year because it had IU fans travel to cheer for a team “starving for that.”
Now the team will have another chance to satiate that hunger against Marshall University on Friday in the national championship.
Just one more opportunity.