— By David Walsh
CARY, N.C. — Lady luck. Good fortune. Hard work pays off. Whatever you want to call it. Marshall had it all going its way Monday night in the College Cup finale against Indiana.
Jamil Roberts scored late in the first overtime to lift the Thundering Herd to a 1-0 victory over the Hoosiers, allowing Marshall to capture its first NCAA soccer championship on its first attempt.
Like most of the Herd’s offense Monday night, the deciding play started with yet another long run by Milo Yosef. The winger cut upfield and inside before a drop off pass to Vitor Dias, who had his initial shot blocked and nearly fired in the rebound himself. Hoosiers goalkeeper Roman Celentano made his season-best seventh save of the night on Dias, but the ball was loose and Roberts was on the doorstep ready to pounce at 97:08.
“Vitor in the box does something no other player on the pitch can do,” Roberts said. “Keeper makes a decent save and I’m there to tap it in. That’s all I can say is it’s Deja vu. Luckily, I’m in the right place at the right time and that’s what we train. I make that run twenty, thirty times in a game, but it only takes that one time for the ball to drop. As coach always says, we love tap-ins. It was the best way to finish this incredible season.”
Marshall fans in the crowd of 5,000 at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park stormed the field to take part in a wild, well-earned celebration.
“It was just one of those moments when time kind of stopped,” Herd coach Chris Grassie said.
Indiana senior A.J. Palazzolo summed up the deciding moment this way.
“They got that goal — the ball just bounced to them and just a weird bang-bang goal,” Palazzolo said. “I wouldn’t say we defended badly. I thought we defended well. We knew they would attack us like that. Our defensive principles stood out even though we didn’t get the win.
“We were unlucky to be on the other end of it.”
Marshall (13-2-3) became the first unseeded team since Santa Clara in 2006 to win the national title.
“I felt like we could do this, and I feel like twelve months ago we were the only ones who believed that,” Roberts said.. “I don’t know about the rest of my teammates, but I’ve been laughed at for telling people we can win a national championship. It’s like, Marshall? Who? But, not bad for a little school from West Virginia with a bunch of internationals, eh?”
Roberts, a native of England, scored each goal for the Conference USA champ in its last three matches — 1-0 wins over Georgetown in the quarterfinals, North Carolina in the semifinals and then Monday night. He was voted the tournament’s Most Outstanding Offensive Player.
Roberts was drafted by Sporting Kansas City of Major League Soccer in January, but opted to delay his professional career.
“Hopefully, I keep this momentum going once I join up with Sporting, but there’s a moment to be enjoyed right now,” Roberts said. “I don’t want think too far ahead to the future and I don’t want to think about the past four years. I just want to live in this incredible moment and enjoy it with the best coaching staff in the country and my teammates and the best fans in the nation out on that field right now.”
Herd goalkeeper Oliver Semmle had to make just one save to notch his 11th shutout of the season as Marshall controlled a good portion of the match.
Roberts finished the season with five goals.
Indiana has been to the College Cup 21 times, winning eight of its 16 appearances in the final.