Heartbreak: 89th Minute Goal Sinks Wildcats in Big East Semis

The team's postseason fate now rests in the hands of the selection committee.

It was all going to plan for the Wildcats. Villanova men’s soccer was less than a minute away from pushing Big East top seed Georgetown to overtime in the tournament semifinals when disaster struck. Sophomore midfielder Chris Hegardt laced a shot from just inside the 18-yard box that deflected off of freshman Hoya midfielder Joe Buck in the box and found its way into the back of the net, past senior keeper Carson Williams, who dove in anticipation of the original shot. 

The 1-0 result sends the Hoyas to the Big East tournament finals and ends the Wildcats’ tournament run a game shorter than the team would have hoped. It also extends the Wildcats’ losing streak against the Hoyas to 14 games, dating back to 2009. 

The match started as a back and forth affair, with both teams creating their fair share of chances. Georgetown got off on the front foot, forcing Williams into action early, as he made a brilliant save on a shot from close range in the third minute of the match. The match didn’t feel one-sided, as the ‘Cats took advantage of counter attacking opportunities against the aggressive Georgetown side, but stats ultimately told a different story. Many of the Hoyas’ chances in the first half converted into shots, while the Wildcats were largely unable to provide a real threat to Georgetown senior keeper Giannis Nikopolidis. At the half, the Hoyas had seven shots, two of which found their way on frame. The Wildcats had no shots. 

That said, the ‘Cats did have a much higher share of the possession through the first period, which, while offensively unproductive, allowed the defense a much needed respite from the relentless Georgetown attack. 

“We knew we were going to sustain a lot of attack from Georgetown,” head coach Tom Carlin said to Villanova Athletics. "Part of it was just trying to slow them down with some of our possessions and be able to chase us a little bit. I thought we did that in the first half." 

The most productive chances for the ‘Cats came early after the halftime break. Junior forward Lyam MacKinnon was able to get a shot off from the top of the 18-yard box in the 58th, but it was blocked before it could reach the goalmouth. A few minutes later, junior midfielder Gray Ricca received a ball in from MacKinnon in the danger area, but his ensuing shot went high and left of the goal. 

“In the first 20 minutes of the second half our possessions were good, we spaced it out well,” Carlin said. "Lyam, Balthi [Saunders], and Jorge [Garcia] were really able to connect and get us going and that is where the chances started. That is what we talked about at halftime so once they got going, we were able to attack.”

The pressure continued to build in the match, as chance after chance went without a goal for either side. The Wildcats defensive core of junior defensive midfielder Josh Belluz, junior defender Viktor Benediktsson and junior defensive midfielder Anthony Dragisics put on a masterclass in ‘bend don’t break’ defense, as the Hoyas continued to pepper the ‘Cats with shots, but remained without a goal to show for it. Villanova’s hard-nosed defending was rewarded with plentiful bookings, as seven Wildcats were shown yellow in the final 20 minutes of the match.

18 shots from the Hoyas later, the squad was finally able to connect on the 19th, thanks to Buck’s redirection past Williams for the back-breaking winner. 

The ‘Cats fought until the very end, as sophomore forward Luke Pompliano had a decent look at goal in the final 20 seconds of the game, but his shot sailed off frame, and the match finished 1-0 in favor of the Hoyas. 

The loss means now the Wildcats must wait and see if they are given an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament, something that’s only happened once in program history, in 2016. The numbers are in their favor, as Villanova was ranked 26th in RPI before the loss to Georgetown. The team’s fate ultimately resides in the hands of the selection committee, who will announce their picks live on NCAA.com at 1:00 P.M. Sunday.