HOOVER, Ala. – The quest for eight is officially a success.
Indiana midfielder Nikita Kotlov’s second half tap-in was good enough for a 1-0 victory over Georgetown in the College Cup final, bringing home the program’s eighth national title.
Kotlov’s tally, to go with yet another stellar defensive performance from the Indiana defense, secured the prize. The final whistle kicked off a wild celebration for the Hoosiers, as it signified mission accomplished and a return to the top for one of college soccer’s most successful programs.
“It was a really hard fought final,” Indiana head coach Todd Yeagley said. “I couldn’t be more proud of these players, in particular the seniors, for what they’ve done for the program, certainly the players underneath them that have helped us get back to this proud moment. Words are hard to explain emotionally what we shared in the locker room and what that team shared on the field.”
Both squads dealt with tired legs after the short turnaround from Friday night’s action, the first 10 minutes of the game very tentative, as each side proved and searched for space and looks at goal.
The scoring chances did come, but each opportunity was met with a smart save. In the 17th minute, a deflected clearance fell to Georgetown’s Tyler Rudy at the top of the box, and his low shot was saved by goalkeeper Luis Soffner.
Likewise, Hoya goalkeeper Tomas Gomez came up big for his side seven minutes later. Indiana midfielder stole the ball off the feet from Georgetown defender Cole Seiler in his own penalty area, though his low shot was equaled by Gomez.
Clear looks at goal were limited for the rest of the first stanza, Zavaleta hitting a low, tame shot straight to Gomez, while Georgetown forward Brandon Allen had a right-footed shot that Soffner snared in the 36th minute.
It was more of the same after the half, as neither side attacked with much abandon, although the Hoyas began to control possession a bit more, looking a bit more dangerous through the first 15 minutes of the half.
Georgetown head coach Brian Wiese gave credit to his players for coming out stronger in the second half.
“These guys know what they’re doing. I don’t say anything at halftime," he said. "It’s about mentality. Today wasn’t about tactics; it was about mentality, like picking up things. I think when we were able to switch the ball today, we were having our most success – that started coming better in the second half.”
However, right after the Hoyas controlled that stretch, Kotlov struck. Gomez came for a high, looping cross to the far post, but couldn’t get a hand to it, and Zavaleta headed the ball to a wide-open Kotlov for a simple tap-in.
“Eriq makes a great run, gets to the ball and sees me, and just makes it really easy for me, I just tapped it away,” Kotlova said.
The goal kicked the desperation level up for the Hoyas, needing a tally to try and keep their title hopes alive. While they managed to possess the ball well, the team lacked the sharpness in the final third, a bit hesitant to take shots at times.
With the Hoyas looking to get forward, the Hoosiers sat back and picked their spots to counter, and attempt to pad the lead. IU had multiple chances, including a 75th minute shot from Zavalata that was punched away by Gomez, while Kotlov had a shot cleared off the line by center back Tommy Muller.
Clean looks at goal were rare for the Hoyas, and one of their last chances of the game came off a free kick that Neumann curled into the hands of Soffner. Seconds later, the Hoyas hit the crossbar as Muller’s looping header nearly provided a late equalizer.
It wouldn’t happen for Georgetown on the day, but Wiese saw his players play until the end.
“Our guys fought like crazy, even though I thought they were tired,” he said. “They battled. Indiana makes it very hard.”
On the other side, Yeagley paid tribute to his team’s back line for once again holding steady and picking up its third straight – and most important – shutout of the tournament.
“We said after the semifinal that to win a championship, you have to be good defensively,” he said. “Every player has to do their job. In particular, Luis Soffner, his growth and what he’s given us has been outstanding. He’s so composed and confident, and the guys in front of him came together and had an incredible weekend.”
College Cup All-Tournament Team: Patrick Mullins (Maryland), Schillo Tshuma (Maryland), Ian Christianson (Georgetown), Tommy Muller (Georgetown), Steve Neumann (Georgetown), Tomas Gomez (Georgetown), Eriq Zavaleta (Indiana), Caleb Konstanski (Indiana), Femi Hollinger-Janzen (Indiana), Nikita Kotlov (Indiana), Luis Soffner (Indiana)
College Cup Most Outstanding Player (Offense): Steve Neumann (Georgetown)
College Cup Most Outstanding Player (Defense): Luis Soffner (Indiana)