The American University men's soccer team and Lehigh played scoreless soccer for 110 minutes on Friday night in the Patriot League Semifinals in Lewisburg, Pa. This set the table for the Eagles' 6-5 shootout victory in a match that will go down as one of the most dramatic finishes in recent AU soccer history.
After playing to a 0-0 draw through regulation and two 10-minute overtime periods, the match moved to a best-of-five shootout to decide the winner. Prior to the start of the penalty kicks, American (9-6-3, 4-2-1 Patriot League) pulled a surprise move by substituting goalkeeper Alex Almodovar into the game for starter Matt Makowski, who had played all 110 minutes in the match. In fact, Friday's high intensity shootout with the season on the line was the freshman's first ever collegiate appearance.
Lehigh's James Graf was first to shoot, and he gave the Mountain Hawks a 1-0 lead. AU's Jamie Davin answered to knot the shootout at one. Lehigh (9-5-4, 4-2-1 PL) then sent Jesse Schram, Adam Welch and Adam Garza to kick, all of whom were successful, while the Eagles counteracted with conversions by Mike Worden, Karsten Smith and Daniel Shannon. With the shootout score knotted at four, Lehigh's Neal Melchionni converted his shot to push the score to 5-4, and force AU's Nick Kapus into a do-or-die situation. Kapus was up to the challenge, pushing a shot by Nydell, to knot the score at five and sent the shootout to sudden death.
Lehigh's Jordie Ciuffetelli was next to step up, and this time, Almodovar was up to the challenge. The freshman goalkeeper was able to fluster Ciuffetelli and force his shot to sail high over the crossbar to give the Eagles the break they needed. Senior Cameron Petty came up next, and sent his shot into the back of the net to give American an exhilarating 6-5 shootout win, advancing the Eagles to Sunday's Patriot League Championship Game against Bucknell.
Overall, it was an evenly-played matched with Lehigh outshooting American by a slim 15-14 margin. Makowski made five saves for the Eagles, recording his second shutout of the season against the Mountain Hawks and fifth overall. In the teams' matchups this season, neither team was able to score a goal in the 220 total minutes of action.
"This was a great team effort, perhaps the best of the year considering the number of guys we had competing with illnesses," remarked American University Head Coach Todd West. "Now we have to regroup and prepare for Bucknell."
The Eagles can certainly put themselves in Lehigh's shoes after its heartbreaking shootout loss on Friday. Last season in Patriot League Semifinals against Holy Cross, American was defeated 5-3 in the shootout following a 1-1 draw through two overtime sessions.
"I want to congratulate [Lehigh coach] Dean [Koski] and the Lehigh players and coaches on a great season and a great match," West added. "Lehigh is certainly a quality program."
With the victory, the Eagles move onto Sunday's Patriot League Championship Game against the top-seeded Bison, which defeated Lafayette, 1-0, in overtime in Friday's first semifinal match. Sunday's match will begin at 1 p.m. at Bucknell's Emmitt Field in Lewisburg, Pa.
In AU's regular season matchup versus the Bison on September 26, the Eagles were victorious by a 3-1 final score. The Eagles are looking for their third Patriot League title since joining the conference in 2001, and a win would also clinch their fourth NCAA Tournament berth under West in his 10-year head coaching tenure at American.