Portland Pilots fall in OT in men's soccer quarterfinals
It took more than 100 minutes for the Pittsburgh men's soccer team to create an opportunity the Portland Pilots could not repel.
But, when the moment came, the Panthers' French connection made it count. A strong header by Valentin Noel in the 104th minute produced the only goal as Pittsburgh beat visiting Portland 1-0 on Saturday, Dec. 3, to advance to the NCAA Division I Men's Soccer College Cup semifinals.
Portland, which reached the national quarterfinals for the third time — and the first time since 1995 — finishes the season with 15 wins, three losses and three draws. The Pilots reached the quarterfinals with tournament wins over UC Riverside, Oregon State and Western Michigan and finished 11-0-1 in matches at Merlo Field in 2022.
"Playing on the road in the quarterfinals is never going to be easy," Portland coach Nick Carlin-Voigt said. "I thought we stood strong and as the game went on we actually grew into the game and created chances of our own in the second half and overtime."
Pilots goalkeeper George Tasouris finished with 10 saves in a huge performance.
It took a well-executed play during the second 10-minute overtime period to finally beat Tasouris. Pitt's Lucas Rosa played a ball into space from the right touchline that teammate Bertin Jacquesson collected near the goal line with time to drive a cross to the top of the six-yard box where Noel headed it home, out-jumping Portland right back Kevin Bonilla to make strong contact with the ball.
Noel has four of Pitt's eight goals in this NCAA Tournament. Fellow Frenchman Jacquesson has three goals and two assists in the Panthers' four NCAA matches.
The breakthrough came on the 32nd shot of the day for the Panthers, who spent much of the afternoon probing in the attacking third only to be repelled by an organized Portland squad and a few big stops by Tasouris. The statistics reflect the push Pitt made as the Panthers outshot the Pilots 32-8 and 11-2 on goal.
Pitt is 12-4-5 and has lost only once since September. The Panthers will face either Indiana or UNC Greensboro on Friday at Cary, North Carolina.
The Pilots did push for a tying goal in the six minutes that remained after falling behind. They earned a free kick and one corner in the closing push and, from a throw-in into the box, Jacob Babalai got off a spinning effort but the quick shot sailed wide.
After a challenging first half — when the Pilots were mostly on the back foot as they adjusted to the artificial turf, a strong wind and an energized opponent — Portland grew into the match in the second half and created some chances for itself. The best of those chance was a shot for Gurman Sangha in the 90th minute that might have won it for the Pilots had Pitt's Rosa not made a recovery run to block the shot.
Carlin-Voigt said the wind, and adjusting to the speed of the ball on the turf, were both a factor in his team not passing the ball to its normal precision. The coach also said his side struggled to consistently pressure Pitt players who had the ball. He also noted that seven or eight starters have flu symptoms and didn't train the day before the match.
"We did not play our typical football, which was due to a lot of different factors," Carlin-Voigt said. "But take nothing away from Pitt. That's a good team. They're a team I think could go win the national championship. But I'm also really proud of our guys and the season we've had. It was a historical year in so many ways."
Tasouris made perhaps his toughest save of the day moments later as Noel got loose for an angled shot from inside the box just three seconds from the end of full time. Some of the goalkeepers bigger moments included a couple of reaction plays in the opening minutes of the match and a strong stop in the 60th minute on a chance for Pitt's Rodrigo Almeida.
"George is a warrior in every way," said Carlin-Voigt, noting that he's earned his spot among the great goalkeepers who have played at Portland. "He was so good in so many ways and what a good leader, what a good performer. So proud of the career he's had at Portland and he's really helped us elevate the program, as have all the seniors."
Portland's chances mostly came in transition moments. Pittsburgh had a significant possession edge and was successful at pressing the Pilots and winning back possession quickly.
In addition to a strong opponent that reaches the semifinals for the second time in three years, the Pilots were challenged by travel and by illness that has run through the squad. The Pilots nearly made it to the crapshoot that is penalty kicks, thanks to a strong performance defending its own 18-yard box. Central defenders Delentz Pierre and Jake Arteaga played strong matches.
The Panthers were on the front foot from the opening minute and nearly broke through in the second minute when Tasouris was forced to make a diving save on a shot from distance followed by a close-range header that flashed just wide.
Tasouris made a nice reaction save in the ninth minute on a whistled shot from Rosa.
The Pilots' back six stood strong for much of the first 45 minutes, denying the Panthers close-range looks despite Pitt dominating possession. Pierre was especially present defending in and around the box.
Portland nearly took the lead against the run of play just after the half-hour mark when Brandon Cambridge got forward up the right wing and sent a dangerous low ball across the top of the six-yard box, just missing a teammate as goalkeeper Joe van der Sar pushed the ball out of danger.
"Obviously, getting to Elite Eight, it's a great opportunity," Carlin-Voigt said. "We are on the road. You're a different time zone and kicking off (at 10 a.m. PT). All those things are just things you have to overcome. And I thought we were so close to overcoming them. But, at the end of the day, it wasn't meant to be."
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