Clemson Claims 2014 ACC Men’s Soccer Title

Clemson celebrates winning the Men's Soccer Championship 2-1 in double overtime against Louisville at WakeMed Soccer Park on Sunday, Nov. 16, 2014, in Cary, N.C. (Photo by Sara D. Davis, theACC.com)

Tigers stun Louisville with late goal in regulation, second OT

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CARY, N.C. (theACC.com) – Clemson played nearly 325 minutes in the 2014 Atlantic Coast Conference Men’s Soccer Championship and didn’t hold a lead – until it counted the most.

Ara Amirkhanian’s goal off a corner kick midway through the second overtime period lifted the Tigers to a 2-1 win over sixth-seeded Louisville in Sunday’s title match, capping an improbable, storybook afternoon for the fourth-seeded Tigers.

“This team is probably made up some of the greatest character young men that I’ve been associated with as a head coach for 27 years, and that came through again today,” Clemson head coach Mike Noonan said.

Louisville appeared virtually assured of winning the match in regulation, holding a 1-0 lead as the clock wound down inside of 10 seconds and the ball in play around midfield. But the Tigers, who scored with just under two minutes remaining to even up Friday night’s quarterfinal match against top-seeded Notre Dame, again refused to be denied.

Junior midfielder Paul Clowes stunned the Cardinals and the WakeMed Soccer Park crowd by ramming home his first goal of the season from the top of the box with three seconds remaining, sending the match into overtime and throwing all of the momentum in the Tigers’ direction.

“As a team we always believe that we can win games,” said Clowes, who was voted the Championship MVP. “That’s the character we have as a team.  We are determined, and we show right until the end. With our team a lot of time the goal scorer is incidental … it’s just (a matter) of putting ourselves into positions to score. Today it was my turn.”

Noonan, who guided the Tigers to their first ACC championship since 2001 and the program’s 14th overall, actually recalled a couple of other occasions in which he had seen a meaningful goal scored so late in a match.
“But at my age, it will still stop your heart,” he said.

Clemson has not lost a match since Oct. 7, but navigated an exhausting road through the ACC Championship. The Tigers played two overtime periods (110 minutes) in both the quarterfinal against Wake Forest and the semifinal against Notre Dame before advancing on penalty kicks. That set up Sunday’s title game, which took 104 minutes and 43 seconds to decide.

Louisville struck for the first goal at the 12:53 mark of the first half. Ricardo Velazco perfectly timed a header on Andrew Brody’s pass from 20 yards out from the left wing for the score. The goal was the sixth of the season for Velazco, who assisted on the first goal and scored on the second in Friday night’s 2-1 semifinal win over top-ranked Syracuse.

The teams combined for seven shots in a physical first half that saw three yellow cards and nine fouls called on each side.  Louisville keeper Joachim Bell squelched both of the Tigers’ shots on goal in the first 45 minutes, and Andrew Tarbell made one save for Clemson.

Ball’s one-handed deflection of Bobby Belair’s close-range header just after halftime preserved Louisville’s 1-0 edge. Clemson got one more shot a few minutes later, but the Tigers did not get another look until the final, frantic seconds of regulation.

That’s when Michael Melvin and Alexandre Happi pushed the ball deep into Louisville territory with the clock winding down, setting up Clowes for his improbable game-tying score.

Clowes began the chain of events that led to Amirkhanian’s winning goal 4:43 into the second overtime period with a well-placed corner kick that Diego Campos and Belair further pushed into scoring positon.

“It’s a tough way to finish the ACC Tournament,” said Louisville coach Ken Lolla, whose team slipped to 10-7-3 on the year. “I give Clemson credit for battling to the end. We should have managed the game a little bit better and because of that it cost us.”

While Clemson earned the ACC’s automatic tournament berth, Louisville anticipates an at-large berth when pairings are announced on Monday afternoon. Lolla is hopeful of been a top-16 seed following wins over North Carolina and top-ranked Syracuse in the ACC Championships first two rounds.

“We were 22 (in RPI) going into the week,” he noted. “But are wins against Syracuse and even an overtime loss to Clemson enough to put us in the top 16? I don’t know. I don’t know enough about the other results. I think if you simply look at our results and our strength of schedule, I think we should be considered in that top 16.”

All-Tournament Team