Villanova men’s soccer earned their first ever NCAA College Cup victory Thursday night, as a penalty kick from junior forward Lyam MacKinnon lifted the ‘Cats above the Vermont Catamounts on a chilly, rainy night in Burlington, 1-0. The win advances the Wildcats to the second round of the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history. The ‘Cats will travel to South Bend to take on the fourth-seeded Notre Dame Fighting Irish this Sunday at 5 p.m.
The Catamounts started on the front foot, getting off four shots in the first 13 minutes of the match, one of which forced senior keeper Carson Williams to make his first save of the night. The ‘Cats were not without offensive opportunities in the half however, as sophomore forward Luke Pompliano was able to get a shot away in the 21st that sailed just wide of the goal frame.
Near the 27th minute, sophomore defender Jorge Garcia was able to force a Catamounts turnover. The ball then found its way to senior forward Seidu Shamsudeen, who had just come on as a substitute for the ‘Cats. Shamsudeen was able to control the ball in the 18-yard box, and as he moved towards goal, he was taken down from behind by a Catamounts defender. The referee awarded the ‘Cats a penalty as a result.
MacKinnon stepped up to take the kick and placed a shot into the upper right corner of the net, beating America East Goalkeeper of the Year Nate Silveira and putting the Wildcats up 1-0. It marked MacKinnon’s eighth goal of the year, his fifth from the penalty spot. MacKinnon has converted all five penalties he has taken for the ‘Cats this year.
“We came out pressing in the first half,” head coach Tom Carlin said to Villanova Athletics. “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.”
Despite some heavy pressure from the Catamounts closer to the end of the half, the ‘Cats were able to keep its one-goal advantage going into the halftime break. The Catamounts led in shots, 7-3.
”I thought we had a good rhythm in the first half and created some good chances,” Carlin said to Villanova Athletics. “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.”
The second half was dominated by Williams and company. The center back pairing of sophomore defender Jack Bonas and junior defender Viktor Benediktsson shined as the Catamounts threw the proverbial kitchen sink at the ‘Cats back line. The Wildcats kept their defensive shape despite the absence of junior defensive midfielder Josh Belluz. This is the first match that the ‘Cats have won without an appearance from Belluz, as they went 0-4-0 when he was injured earlier this season.
The Wildcats weathered the storm through the early goings of the second half, and were unable to find a significant spell of possession until just 10 minutes remained in the game. After surviving a flurry of shots from graduate forward Nacho Lerecho and his attacking partners, junior defender Anthony Cousins Jr. was able to aid the ‘Cats offensive effort, sending the ball up the left side of the pitch and helping the ‘Cats drain the clock as they waited out their first ever NCAA College Cup victory.
Ultimately, MacKinnon’s penalty proved to be the decider. Vermont finished with the advantage in shots, 30-9. However, just five of the 30 Catamounts shots found their way on frame, and Williams was able to come up with saves on all five attempts.
The win sends the Wildcats to South Bend, Indiana to face fourth-seeded ACC Champions Notre Dame on Sunday. The Fighting Irish, who had a bye in the first round of the College Cup, currently stand at 12-5-3. The winner of Sunday’s match will go on to face either Florida International or Wake Forest in the third round.
The tournament win also gives the Wildcats 12 wins on the year, tying the program record for wins in a single season. The 1980 and 2012 squads both also reached the 12 win mark.
“For us, this has been a long time coming,” Carlin said to Villanova Athletics. “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.”