HOOVER, Ala. – It seemed cruel that, after 110 remarkable minutes, after exceptional goals and wild swings of momentum, a soccer spectacle between Maryland and Georgetown in the NCAA men’s tournament semifinals had to be decided by penalty kicks.
Separated by 11 miles inside the Beltway, they had traveled some 700 to resume a one-sided rivalry interrupted by administrative politics. What unfolded at Regions Park was an evening of high drama, one that threatened to set a College Cup scoring record and culminated with a tiebreaker that sent the third-seeded Hoyas to the title game for the first time in the program’s 60-year history.
They played to a 4-4 draw through regulation and overtime before Tomas Gomez stopped consecutive penalty kicks to seal a 4-3 advantage. After thwarting Helge Leikvang’s bid in the fifth round, the sophomore sprinted the length of the field to escape his elated teammates before sliding in celebration at the corner flag.
The Hoyas (19-3-3) will play for the championship at 2 p.m. Sunday against No. 16 Indiana (15-5-3), a seven-time champion that defeated No. 12 Creighton, 1-0.
Georgetown had lost all 28 previous matches against No. 2 Maryland (20-1-3), including a 4-3 overtime result in the only other tournament meeting 18 years ago. Games decided on penalty kicks are recorded as ties, so technically the Hoyas still haven’t beaten Maryland. Not that they care.
“I blacked out after halftime, so hopefully we won,” Hoyas Coach Brian Wiese joked. “That’s about as entertaining a soccer game as you will ever see.”
The tiebreaker ended a match in which Maryland recovered from a pair of two-goal deficits in the second half. In which a Georgetown player deflected the Terrapins goalkeeper’s clearance into the net, a soccer rarity. In which the Hoyas’ Steve Neumann recorded a hat trick and Maryland freshman Schillo Tshuma scored twice.
The scoring total was the second highest for a semifinal behind Saint Louis’s 7-3 victory over Maryland 49 years ago. Neumann became the first player to score three goals in a semifinal or final since Virginia’s Nate Friends in 1993. No team had scored four goals in the College Cup in six years.
“This was a spectacle,” said Sasho Cirovski, in his 20th year at Maryland’s helm. “I’ve never seen anything close to it.”
Maryland had superior pedigree, making its sixth College Cup appearance in 11 seasons. Georgetown had never gone beyond the round of 16. But any doubts about whether the Hoyas could play with the national scoring leaders were quickly put to rest.
“These guys didn’t let the situation daunt them at all,” Wiese said. “They were very loose and very relaxed.”
Despite their superiority, the Hoyas fell behind in the 20th minute when Tshuma, The Washington Post’s 2011 All-Met Player of the Year at Episcopal, nodded in Patrick Mullins’s flick.
The Hoyas, however, didn’t stray from their tactics and continued to attack with menace. Neumann scored twice in 89 seconds — on a composed finish deep in the box and on a 22-yard drive that kissed off the far post.
Maryland’s problems deepened three minutes after the break. On a routine back pass, Georgetown’s Brandon Allen redirected goalie Keith Cardona’s clearing attempt into the net for his 16th goal, tops in the country by a freshman.
The only other time Maryland confronted a two-goal deficit all season was in a 4-2 loss at Wake Forest in the regular season finale.
The Terrapins answered in the 59th minute when Tshuma volleyed in Mullins’s header. Two minutes later, though, Andy Riemer (Georgetown Prep) seized on acres of space and crossed to the surging Neumann for a sliding finish.
“You always dream about having games like that on big stages like this,” Neumann said. “I am just very fortunate for it to happen this time of the season.”
Wiese interjected: “He’s not fortunate; he’s good.”
The Terrapins weren’t done. In the 74th minute, Mikey Ambrose powered a 25-yard rocket off the crossbar and Mullins nodded in the rebound. Three minutes later, they tied it in spectacular fashion as freshman Christiano Francois made a stylish rush through the heart of Georgetown’s resistance and stung an 18-yarder to the lower right corner.
“I don’t think we ever thought we weren’t going to come back,” Mullins said. “We knew we would find a way.”
In the tiebreaker, Maryland led 3-2 after three rounds, but after Riemer converted for Georgetown, Gomez went to his right to save Taylor Kemp’s shot. Jimmy Nealis scored for the Hoyas before Gomez correctly guessed which corner Leikvang was targeting.
“Wouldn’t you like to see that every year?” Wiese said of playing Maryland. “It’s just a fun game. We have a huge amount of respect for each other. Hopefully we will line up again at some point, maybe in front of the D.C. soccer community next time.”