09 Dec 2021 | 10:39 | Football
BURLINGTON, Va. – Villanova earned a penalty kick, converted it, and then used sturdy defense to post a 1-0 victory here Thursday evening over America East Tournament champion Vermont in the opening round of the 2021 NCAA Soccer Tournament.
The win is Villanova’s first ever in the NCAA Tournament.
Junior Lyam MacKinnon put home the penalty kick midway through the first half and the Wildcats leaned on goalkeeper Carson Williams and center backs Viktor Benediktsson and Jack Bonas to hold the line the rest of the way in the 1-0 win.
“I thought we had a good rhythm in the first half and created some good chances,” noted head coach Tom Carlin. “In the second half we kind of got caught on our back foot a little bit and I thought we lost our composure a little. But we defended well and finished it out.”
With heavy rain falling for most of the afternoon here, the synthetic surface was slick as the match began just after 6 p.m. Neither team was able to establish consistent possession, though the Catamounts did generate the game’s first four shots, one of which was saved by Williams.
Sophomore Luke Pompliano got the Wildcats’ their first chance of the night after coming on for classmate Akinjide Awujo, who was shaken up in pursuit of a loose ball near midfield. Pompliano’s bid went wide of the net and the contest remained scoreless through the first 25 minutes of soccer.
A turning point came shortly thereafter. Sophomore Jorge Garcia forced a Catamounts turnover just outside the 18 yard box and it went to teammate Seidu Shamsudeen, who had replaced Balthi Saunders just moments before that. As Shamsudeen made a move toward goal with the ball he was taken down by a Vermont defender and the referee’s whistle signaled a corner kick.
MacKinnon sent the ball into the upper right hand corner of the net at 27:31 to push Villanova on top. It was MacKinnon’s eighth goal of the season and the Wildcats’ first NCAA Tournament goal. In addition, it marked MacKinnon’s fifth successful PK conversion in as many attempts in 2021.
“We came out pressing in the first half,” Carlin said. “We re-pressed there with Jorge, Seidu got on to it and created a foul in the box. Lyam stepped up as he’s been doing all year for us.”
Vermont applied pressure toward the end of the period but Villanova kept the Catamounts in check and went to its locker room after 45 minutes with a 1-0 advantage. Vermont held a 7-3 edge in shots.
The Catamounts launched five shots towards the Villanova goal in the first nine minutes of the second half, but none were on frame. The Wildcats were able to relieve some of that pressure, getting shots from MacKinnon and Garcia, but Vermont began to re-press, generating three consecutive corner kicks. Nova successfully defended each of those to retain its lead.
A Nacho Lerecho blast for the Catamounts brought the Virtue Field crowd to its feet in the 77th minute but the shot sailed just outside the right post. Just moments later Lerecho sent another shot, this time on goal, that Williams stopped with a dive to his left.
Over the final 10 minutes, Villanova grabbed more of the possession thanks in part to the work of Anthony Cousins Jr., who helped the ‘Cats create some counter attacks from the left side. Vermont was unable to generate any more dangerous opportunities and Villanova had earned itself the chance to face No. 4 seed Notre Dame on Sunday in South Bend.
“For us, this has been a long time coming,” said Carlin. “We’ve been through some ups and downs. This group deserves it. They were resilient all year. I’m just so proud of them and we’re looking forward to Notre Dame.”
The victory was Villanova’s 12th of the season, which ties the program record for single season wins (1980 and 2012).