HUNTINGTON — In a match for more than just Mountain State college soccer supremacy, Marshall showed why it is the No. 11 seed in the men’s NCAA tournament.
In front of an overflow, sold out crowd at Hoops Family Field and without its head coach and one of its best players, the Thundering Herd beat visiting West Virginia 2-1 on Sunday to take its place among the final 16 teams in the College Cup.
It was the first time West Virginia’s two Division I men’s soccer programs played since 2004, and Marshall (16-2-3) did not waste much time opening the scoring once play began Sunday.
Just under 10 minutes into the first half, MU’s Jamil Roberts took a pass from teammate Collin Mocyunas and beat West Virginia goalkeeper Steven Tekesky to the left, giving the Herd an early lead.
Marshall controlled possession throughout the half, but WVU was able to create several scoring opportunities on the counter attack. In the 39th minute the Mountaineers pushed the play into Marshall’s end of the field and took advantage of a corner kick. Albert Andres-Llop played the ball in to Lucas Logan, who beat Marshall keeper Paulo Pita with a header to tie the game 1-1.
The tie, however, would not last long. Marshall was awarded one of its eight first-half corner kicks just a few minutes later and capitalized on the opportunity. MU’s Jonas Westmeyer hit a cross toward the WVU goal, with Milo Yosef redirecting the ball past Tekesky for the eventual game-winning goal.
“To be fair, I think the ball would have went in without me,” Yosef said. “I just tried to distract the keeper a little bit and got a deflection on my hair and it went in.”
Both teams had chances in the second half, with Marshall out-shooting the Mountaineers 6-5 in the final 45 minutes. West Virginia, however, began to wear down in the late stages of Sunday’s match and WVU head coach Marlon LeBlanc said it showed.
“From our standpoint, we looked like a team that was playing our fifth game in 13 days,” LeBlanc, who led WVU to its first Mid-American Conference tournament championship this season, said. “We looked gassed. It showed a little bit in terms of our press, which has been one of the best things we can do as a team. We weren’t able to really press because the legs just weren’t there.”
The Mountaineers may have been tired, but their defense held strong as Marshall tried in vain to extend its lead in the second half. The Herd defense was able to shut down WVU’s few chances and was able to run out the clock to send MU to next week’s round of 16 against the winner of Sunday’s late Washington/Boston College.
“If you watched it closely, it was two different styles,” MU assistant coach Petsa Ivanovic said. “That’s what we encounter in our conference almost every single game. We were prepared for it because we knew they were going to come and play direct and long balls in behind, and obviously they almost got in behind a few times but our defense was really good. Our conference really prepared us for [this game].”
Marshall head coach Chris Grassie and junior midfielder Pedro Dolabella were suspended before Sunday’s game due to “a recently discovered administrative error,” according to a release from MU. The error had to do with card accumulation, and the NCAA Soccer Rules Selection Committee will determine the length of the suspensions next week.
Grassie and Dolabella helped lead Marshall to its most successful season in program history so far this season. The Thundering Herd won the Conference USA regular season and tournament championships, with Dolabella’s goal in double-overtime the game-winner in the C-USA title match against Charlotte last week.
Ivanovic said the message before the game Sunday was simple — to go win one for Grassie and Dolabella.
“The boys can tell you, that was the message I gave them before the game,” Ivanovic said. “It’s simple — those two guys brought us here. If it wasn’t for Chris, none of us would be here and if it wasn’t for Pedro last Sunday, we would not be here since he scored the game-winning goal. I told them, we have get it done for them. We owe everything to them, and the boys went out and got it done. That was the real extra fuel to the fire, along with the fans.”