MEN'S SOCCER | Irish Edge Hoyas in Conference Title Game
Published: Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 02:11
CHESTER, Pa. — Thirty-three seconds. That half-minute and change was all that separated the No. 4 Georgetown men’s soccer team (17-3-1, 6-2-0 Big East) from its first-ever Big East tournament title on Sunday over No. 7 Notre Dame (16-3-1, 5-2-1).
As fate would have it, those 33 seconds at PPL Park will instead likely haunt these Hoyas for quite some time.
Holding a 2-1 lead thanks to senior midfielder Andy Riemer’s second goal of the day in the 82nd minute, the defense failed to mark up on a Notre Dame service from the left flank in the 90th minute, and sophomore midfielder Nick Besler rose up to put it home and send the contest to overtime.
That first golden-goal period wouldn’t be enough to settle things, but with just over a minute left in the second overtime — and with the game looking as if it were destined to go to penalty kicks — senior forward Ryan Finley, the conference’s leading scorer, buried another clutch header to break the Blue and Gray’s hearts and give the Irish the championship.
“It’s a gutting loss — I’m gutted for our guys because I think they deserved more than that and I’d like to see someone construct a more painful way to lose a game,” Head Coach Brian Wiese said. “You have it, you have it won, there’s 30 seconds or thereabouts, there’s maybe one more clearance to make, they score to equalize [and suddenly] they have all the momentum.”
That sentiment was echoed by junior forward Steve Neumann, who posted on Twitter afterward, “Never been so absolutely gutted from a loss.”
A tweet from senior defender Jimmy Nealis, meanwhile, simply read, “33 seconds.”
Georgetown had taken a 1-0 lead into halftime after Riemer found the back of the net in the 39th minute amidst a scrum in front of the Notre Dame goal, and Neumann had another apparent goal waved off just two minutes later. Nonetheless, the team appeared to have all the momentum at that point, backed by a small but noticeably pro-Hoya crowd in the Delaware River stadium.
It wouldn’t take long out of the locker rooms for the Irish to put a quick end to any premature engraving.
Finley one-timed a pass from the top of the box to the left corner in the 51st minute, and the lead was evaporated.
To the Blue and Gray’s credit, however, they didn’t let the game get away from them. Notre Dame was more or less restricted to counterattacking in the second half, as two-touch combinations in the opposing half of the field helped Wiese’s players keep possession and calm themselves back down.
Following an ambitious foray upfield, Nealis found Riemer for his second tally, and the title seemed all but assured. But the Irish worked it to the outside in the final minute, and the subsequent cross fell right onto the head of an open Besler to knot it up at two apiece.
Notre Dame then nearly won it in shocking fashion with three seconds left, but a dangerous effort trickled just wide of sophomore Tomas Gomez’s left post.
“We were obviously a little disappointed — Notre Dame with that late second-half goal — but we were determined [and] decided to win the game immediately or as soon as possible,” an understated Riemer said after the game. “Both teams were tired, but we just tried to work it out.”
Wiese was proud of his players’ response to the last-gasp equalizer as they headed to overtime.
“The interesting thing about this team — and I think why we’re having the season we’re having — is that when I’m looking at these boys and we’re getting ready to go out for that first overtime period, yeah, there’s disappointment there, but there’s still resolve. There’s still confidence. And they’ve had that all year,” Wiese said. “That’s something you can’t really coach. It’s character, and it’s top-bottom down.”
Yet despite that committment, Notre Dame completely controlled play in the first 10-minute period of overtime. Still, with nothing to show for it, the game progressed to the second overtime, where, with just over a minute before penalty kicks would have been needed to settle the match, Finley struck again to end the game.
“We actually thought in the first overtime that Notre Dame really carried that first 10 minutes, and that second 10 minutes — of course the one we lose — we carried,” Wiese said. “I thought we were the team that was going to maybe win it, or it was going to go to penalties. I’m looking at that last few minutes, and I’m saying, ‘Well, either way we’ll [at least] go to PKs, and we’ll take our chances there.’ It’s just a funny game you play. … It’s a cruel game sometimes, too.”
Sunday’s fixture was certainly more cruel than funny for the Blue and Gray, whose collapse is sure to sting going forward: The title would have been the first in program history, and this standout senior class was painfully within reach.
Heartbreak aside, though, Wiese had a number of positives to take away from the experience.
“This is exactly why you play in the league. You try to solve teams like Notre Dame and break them down, and I thought the guys did an absolutely terrific job,” he said. “You’re 30-plus seconds away from winning the whole thing. I’ve said all year that Notre Dame is the best team we’d played, and I think [they are] one of the best in the country, so I think the fact that for long stretches we outplayed them and were the better team for a big chunk of the game [speaks] to where the program is at this stage and where this group of seniors has taken it.”
This, of course, isn’t the end of the line for Georgetown, who will begin NCAA tournament play on Sunday at home after earning the No. 3 overall seed and a first-round bye. And, hardened by their experience at PPL Park this weekend, the Hoyas seem poised to do some serious damage on the national stage.