CARY, NC — Maouloune Goumballe couldn’t move. With eyes transfixed on the goal that stood over 50 yards away from him, efforts to console the Indiana men’s soccer attacker were futile.
As the roaring celebration of Syracuse University grew by the second, the senior forward appeared unaware, maybe unwilling to acknowledge the reality setting in. An almost magical season — one that saw the Hoosiers defy the odds and coast through the NCAA Tournament into the College Cup Final — came to a bitter conclusion: a 7-6 loss in penalties.
Redshirt senior defender Daniel Munie surely heard his name announced as a College-Cup All-Tournament Team member after the match. But he couldn’t think about that. He stood motionless around midfield. This was his final career match as a Hoosier.
“Speechless. There are no words,” junior goalkeeper JT Harms said after the defeat. “It’s going to take some time to regroup. I thought we deserved better.
The grounds crew blew away the confetti and the pitch was empty. An onlooker over WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina couldn’t have possibly conceived the events that had just transpired. It was a title match filled with fiery emotions and unfettered passion: a true heavyweight battle.
“That was a war. Those kids were grinding on every play,” Indiana head coach Todd Yeagley said. “There was a lot of fight. Syracuse is a tough team, and I commend them for that.
The Orange presented an intriguing, yet monumental challenge. An uber-athletic, physically imposing side, the Hoosiers knew full well what the match would entail. Luckily for Yeagley, though, just about every member of his team was in top form.
Most importantly, the veteran backline and Harms were impenetrable throughout the NCAA Tournament, conceding zero goals until the championship. Still, the aura of the match was different. Prior performances, history of the programs — it was all irrelevant.
When the teams walked side by side from the tunnel onto the pitch — standing under the fireworks and glowing lights — the stage was set. In a season that saw two teams that many viewed unworthy of the crown, it felt apropos that a turbulent clash would occur.
With frantic pace and colliding bodies, Indiana and Syracuse made tireless attempts to impose their will on the match. In the 24th minute, though, it was the Orange, a newcomer to the peak of the proverbial mountain, who drew first blood.
Syracuse sophomore forward Nathan Opoku, who earned an All-American nod this season, had four Hoosier defenders keyed in on his presence. But it was useless. He weaved into a favorable position, fired a brilliant left-footed strike and awarded his team the advantage.
The railings of the tunnel, which sat along the midfield line, offered a sharp divide between the Hoosier and Orange faithful. After Opoku’s goal, the orange and blue clad fans rose in a raucous, joyous unison.
Less than 10 minutes later, it was the section donning cream and crimson who would celebrate. After redshirt senior forward Ryan Wittenbrink lofted a cross into the Syracuse box, the ball took a deflection. Then another. One section exuded anticipatory excitement while the other dreaded the impending doom.
The former would win that fight. Sophomore midfielder Patrick McDonald struck a gorgeous volley into the bottom corner to level the match. Game on.
“He can do so much. He’s got a tremendous future ahead,” Yeagley said of McDonald. “He’s just getting started. I’m excited that we have more time with Patrick.
Not even two minutes after the equalizer, Syracuse stormed back. Again, Opoku was a Hoosier killer. He spun and dodged defenders with ease down the edge of the box and delivered a cross to the penalty spot. Sophomore midfielder Curt Calov poked it past Harms, and just like that, the Orange were back on top, 2-1.
The next 50 or so minutes were quiet. There were spells of Syracuse possession where the stadium fell almost silent. As the match winded down, the Hoosiers’ fate appeared sealed. But in the 80th minute, senior forward Herbert Endeley had an answer.
A screaming, cross-body long shot again jolted one section into triumphant celebration and the other into despair.
Ten scoreless minutes passed and regulation concluded. The teams headed to their sidelines for a brief intermission before venturing into overtime.
The two 10-minute overtime periods, while seeing a few fruitful opportunities for both sides, ultimately grew stagnant. The emotion never wavered —the pace and physicality persisted — but after 110 minutes of grueling soccer, the teams would head to the penalty spot.
Penalty shootouts, aside from stress-inducing, are intimate. A personal affair between a goalkeeper and a shooter. The other players await at midfield. Fans maintain complete silence until the ball hits either the nylon netting or the keeper’s gloves.
“Goalkeepers understand that this is your time to shine,” Harms said. “(Syracuse redshirt senior goalkeeper Russell Shealy) had kind words, so it’s complimentary of each other. It’s all respect out there.”
Wittenbrink converted Indiana’s first. Senior forward Karsen Henderlong missed the second. Syracuse junior midfielder Lorenzo Boselli slammed home the Orange’s first, while Junior midfielder Jeorgio Kocevski missed their second.
Five makes from both sides later, the Hoosiers’ eighth penalty taker stepped up. It was Goumballe. He went low to Shealy’s right — which is exactly where Shealy dove. If Syracuse junior midfielder Amferny Sinclair found the back of the net, the Orange would be crowned national champions for the first time in program history.
Harms guessed right. But Sinclair’s strike was too powerful. Game over.
“These guys care so much. They invest a lot,” Yeagley said. “When you do that, it can hurt more.”
The Hoosiers will lose crucial pieces this offseason. Right now, though, the sting of the defeat is overwhelming. But to Harms, there’s cause for optimism.
“It’s a tradition of excellence, as we say here, and the stars above our crest shows it,” Harms said. “We fell short, but it’s just going to fuel the fire.”