UCLA Falls Inches Short of a National Championship in Penalty Kicks
The UCLA Bruins lost in a penalty shootout, 0-0 (4-2 PKs), to the Virginia Cavaliers in the NCAA College Cup Finals on Sunday afternoon at WakeMed Soccer Park. Despite dominating the time of possession and shot attempts, the Bruins were unable to capture a goal during regulation and overtime, ultimately falling just short of the National Championship in penalties.
UCLA (14-5-5) came out with a confident attitude and took control of the game right from the outset. Throughout the first half the Bruins possessed the ball in the offensive third almost exclusively, but found it hard to find space between the Cavaliers defenders. The best chance of the half came when Brian Iloski was tackled from behind, giving UCLA a free-kick from 20 yards out. Leo Stolz did the honors and sent a bending ball over the wall and just over the crossbar, barely missing the target. Neither team was able to net a goal in the first 45 minutes, leaving the game scoreless at the half.
In the second half, UCLA again dominated possession in the offensive third, continuing to search for a goal. The Bruins mounted a plethora of attacks, but the Cavaliers supremely defensive posture made life difficult for UCLA.
Just three minutes into the second half, UCLA almost found the goal they so desperately needed. Stolz made a smart run in behind a few defenders where Felix Vobejda led him with a through ball. Stolz then took a few touches and slid the ball across the face of net to a waiting Larry Ndjock at the top of the six-yard box. Ndjock hit it with his right foot, but didn’t get all of the ball and the Cavaliers goalkeeper scooped up the soft shot.
Then, six minutes later, Ndjock had another chance to put the Bruins ahead. Vobejda sent a cross into the penalty area, from the right corner, that just skimmed off of a Virginia defender’s head and continued towards the far post. There waiting was Ndjock who leaped in the air and head the ball firmly, but just wide left of the target.
Despite out-shooting Virginia 10-3 in the second half, UCLA was unable to break the scoreless knot and were forced to head to extra time for the third game in a row.
In extra time, Abu Danladi had the chance of the match in the 105th minute. The play started from a free-kick that Stolz sent careening into a crowded box. The ball found a group of players at the far post and deflected back towards the middle of the attacking zone. Danladi, with a defender draped on his back, attacked the ball and volleyed it from just a few yards out, but was unable to direct it away from the goalkeeper. The save was made, and shortly after, penalty kicks were deemed necessary to determine a winner.
A win seemed promising for UCLA in the early rounds of the penalty kicks after Earl Edwards Jr. stopped an attempt from Virginia’s Scott Thomsen with a diving effort. The save put the Bruins in a spot to earn a one-goal advantage in the penalties. However, the ensuing kick from Gage Zerboni was struck squarely off of the crossbar to keep the score even at one. Willie Raygoza would follow Zerboni with a nearly identical shot off of the crossbar and the UCLA possible one-goal lead turned into a one-goal disadvantage. The Bruins were never able to recover and Virginia claimed their seventh National Championship in school history.
UCLA, nonetheless, had a very successful season which saw the team reach their 32nd straight NCAA Tournament, 14th College Cup and ninth NCAA Finals appearance.