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Sauers’ goal in the 99th minute sends Maryland to finals
GERMANTOWN, Md. – Better late than never. As far as top-seeded Maryland was concerned, much better.
Freshman Michael Sauers’ close-range goal off an assist from Patrick Mullins with 13 seconds left in the first overtime period lifted the top-seeded Terrapins to a 1-0 win over fourth-seeded Clemson in the semifinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference Men’s Soccer Championship on Friday night.
A crowd of 3,352 at the Maryland SoccerPlex looked on as the defending champions Terps (12-3-5) advanced to Sunday’s 2 p.m. title match against Virginia (10-4-5). Clemson slipped to 11-7-2 with the hard-luck loss.
“Clemson is a great team,” Maryland coach Sasho Cirovski said. “For sure they are an NCAA tournament team. They’re one of the better teams we face over the year, and we have a lot of respect for them. They’ve pushed us and they’ve stretched us and they’ve made us better.
“Tonight, I was extremely proud of our overall commitment defending. Clemson came out very committed and in the first few minutes, we settled in. Both teams went toe to toe – it was an up and down game.”
The winning score followed a corner kick by Tsubasa Endoh that players from both sides attempted the control. The ball caromed off the foot of Mullins, and Sauers punched his third career goal into the right side of the net to give Maryland the win.
The goal in the 99th minute marked the latest point in a match that the nationally fourth-ranked Terrapins have scored this season. Their previous latest goal came in the 82nd minute in a 1-1 versus Old Dominion on Sept. 24.
“We had chances,” Clemson coach Mike Noonan said. “For the most part, we kept them out of the penalty area. Our final pass, our final shot wasn’t good enough. But I was very proud of the way our team played. Any time we play against the top teams in the country we compete with them, proving we can beat them. Hopefully, we can get the chance to do that in the NCAA Tournament.”
In a physical match that featured 21 fouls and four yellow cards, the Terps wound up with a 13-11 edge in shots attempted. Clemson goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell made six saves, and Maryland counterpart Zack Steffen stifled all three of the Tigers’ shots on goal.
After a quiet first half, both teams had chances to win the game in the final 45 minutes of regulation and opening minutes of overtime.
Mullins got a good look on a breakaway with just under 41 minutes remaining in the match, but his shot edged just wide right and was tipped by Tarbell. The Terps’ Alex Shinsky fired from close range with 25 minutes remaining, but Tarbell was there again to keep the score at 0-0.
In the opening minute of the first overtime, Shinsky tried from 10 yards out, but Tarbell was there again to make the save.
Two minutes later, Clemson’s Thomas McNamara’s free kick cleared the Terrapins’ defensive wall and appeared to have a chance of finding the back of the net. But Steffen flicked the ball away to the almost audible collective sigh the Maryland student cheering section that had set up camp on the grassy bank section behind the goal. The teams played on until Sauers finally ended it in the closing seconds.
“It was a tough game – two evenly matched teams, two of the best teams in the country,” McNamara said.”(I am) real proud of the guys. They fought the whole time, they were in it the whole time. Everyone played well.”
Maryland, which eliminated Clemson in overtime in the ACC Championship’s semifinal round for the second straight year, will be seeking its conference-leading 23rd tournament title in Sunday afternoon’s game. Virginia will be bidding for its 16th ACC Championship trophy.
If the regular season was any indication, those in attendance or watching Sunday’s title game broadcast via ESPNU could be in for a real treat. The teams battled to a 3-3 tie when they met in Charlottesville, Va., on Oct. 11.
Sunday’s game will be the last ACC contest for Maryland, which is moving to the Big Ten in 2014.
“This is a special tournament and this is the second-most important championship in college soccer,” Cirovski said. “We’ve been fortunate to play for a lot of titles for our time in the ACC, and this is going to be a very special one as well. You can’t write a better script. When you think of ACC soccer and you think of the heritage and the history, to have Maryland and Virginia play for the title on Sunday, at a place where there is going to be 7,000-plus people, it’ll be a special day.”
Mullins, a senior and the reigning MAC Hermann Trophy winner, agreed.
“For me and the rest of the guys on the team, it’s been an honor representing the ACC,” Mullins said. “We love the conference, and obviously this year has been a great example of how good the conference is, especially in men’s soccer with the competition on the field. It’s just been an honor and we’re going to miss it, but obviously we’re excited for the game Sunday.”