CARY, N.C. — It took awhile for the Marshall men’s soccer team to settle into its NCAA Elite Eight matchup against Georgetown on Monday.
But once it did, Thundering Herd coach Chris Grassie had little doubt about the outcome.
The Herd rewarded his confidence by playing a solid tactical game before finally breaking through on a goal by Jamil Roberts in the 70th minute.
The 1-0 victory against the defending national champion Hoyas at WakeMed Soccer Park came just four days after an upset of top-seeded Clemson and sends Marshall to the College Cup for the first time in school history.
The Herd will play in the College Cup semifinals on Friday at 6 p.m. against North Carolina (9-4-4), which defeated fifth-seeded Wake Forest in Monday’s quarterfinal game .
“We were just trying to get our legs back from previous games,” Grassie said of his team’s disjointed early play. “But once we got in tune and started figuring out some things tactically I thought we were terrific. I thought it was only us that was ever going to win it.”
Unlike Clemson, which allowed Marshall to play a possession game and dictate the game’s pace, Georgetown (10-2-2) pressured the Herd right from the start and produced several early scoring chances.
The best one came in the 11th minute when the Hoyas’ Paul Rothrock sent in a high bending shot off a free kick from about 35 yards out. Marshall goalkeeper Oliver Semmel was able to get a piece of the original shot, but it wasn’t until center back Nathan Dossantos cleared the rebound that the ball was sent out of harm’s way.
It took another six minutes for Marshall (11-2-3) to finally get its first scoring chance, but once the Herd began to settle in, the momentum slowly shifted. And it continued to pick up steam into the second half.
Despite Georgetown’s attempts to wear Marshall down by subbing multiple players in and out of the lineup — several times changing five players at once — the Herd continued to press forward.
The effort paid off in a goal with 20:03 remaining on a well-executed sequence that saw the ball change directions near midfield twice before Vitor Dias took matters into his own hands.
The Hermann Trophy semifinalist put a move on his defender and dribbled the ball along the end line into the box. When the Hoyas converged on him, he deftly passed the ball across the goal mouth to an unmarked Roberts, who tapped the ball into the unguarded net for his fourth goal of the season.
“You might have noticed Vitor is pretty skillful,” Grassie said with a laugh. “He shows the defender the ball a little bit, then he drops his shoulder and then it looks like he’s running really slowly. But the defender can’t keep up with him and he just flicked it off the top. [It was a] lovely play … and Jamil was at the back post to tap it in. We love tap-ins.”
Grassie said he knew the one goal would be all his team needed to win the game as soon as the ball hit the back of the net.
His confidence was based on the way his keeper has been playing of late and the fact that Stemmel told him before the game that he would shut the Hoyas out.
He did, but not without some nerve-racking moments during a final 20 minutes that seemed to take an eternity to play out.
“I looked at the clock and there was 10 minutes to go and 20 minutes after there was still eight minutes to go,” Stemmel, the hero of Marshall’s penalty-kick win against Clemson on Thursday, said. “It took so long [but] I think we did a good job to work them out.”
Georgetown didn’t go down quietly. With everyone pushing forward in the game’s final minute, the Hoyas’ Zack Riviere got a clean look at the net off a cross to the far post. He didn’t get much on his header, though, and it ended up safely in Stemmel’s arms.
“It was an easy save,” he said.
Nothing has been easy for the Herd this postseason. But as was the case with his team’s earlier upset, Grassie downplayed the significance of the victory by continuing to look forward.
“For us, it’s just another day,” he said. “We’ll prepare the same way we did for this game and just take it in stride. We’ll just kind of relax for a couple days, then get back to it and go all the way. That’s the goal. We want to be national champs. Final Four isn’t good enough.”