Durrie Bouscaren | Contributing PhotographerMen's soccer
Syracuse’s historic season ends with loss to Georgetown on penalty kicks
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Jordan Murrell lowered his head when Syracuse’s third-round NCAA tournament game ended, looking away from his missed penalty kick and avoiding the sight of Georgetown’s celebration.
On Sunday at Georgetown’s North Kehoe Field, Syracuse brought another ranked opponent — the No. 3-seed Hoyas — to the brink of an upset. But that upset was put on hold when Georgetown tied the game 1-1 with five minutes remaining in regulation. And after two extra-time periods, the upset bid ended when Georgetown goalkeeper Tomas Gomez smothered Murrell’s shot, securing a 4-2 advantage in penalty kicks and a spot in the Elite Eight for the Hoyas.
“I just looked and groaned,” Murrell said. “That’s just how the game is sometimes — it’s tough, but everyone felt like we could’ve been the ones celebrating today.”
Instead, the group of orange-clad visiting fans had to celebrate the end of Syracuse’s most successful season in program history. SU never won an NCAA tournament game and last made an appearance in 1984. This year’s team — coming off a three-win season in 2011 — upset Cornell and Virginia Commonwealth last week to reach the Sweet 16 and nearly advanced again.
But Syracuse didn’t do enough on Sunday to keep its historic season alive.
Fifteen minutes after a well-timed pass by Murrell to the head of Jordan Vale gave Syracuse a 1-0 lead in the 29th minute, head coach Ian McIntyre seemingly erased his offensive scheme in favor of a “packed-in” approach on defense.
That allowed the Hoyas to take over in the second half.
Georgetown never let SU expand on that early lead. The Hoyas attempted 16 shots to Syracuse’s four in regulation, but McIntyre said he thought his plan was effective enough to win.
“For the most part, we thought we did a good job limiting them to shots they didn’t want to take,” McIntyre said. “That strategy is something we’ve used against teams like Cornell before with success, so we did it again.”
McIntyre’s defense-first strategy foiled the Hoyas for 84 minutes.
But in the 85th minute, Georgetown’s Brandon Allen regained possession of a ball he tried to shoot deep in the Syracuse box. Allen found enough open space to hit a left-footed shot past SU goalkeeper Alex Bono to tie the game at 1-1 with five minutes left in regulation.
It meant Syracuse’s choice to sacrifice its second-half offense backfired. And senior captain Ted Cribley said it signaled the change in momentum in a game that would prove to be his last.
“We tried not to focus on what just happened, but it was tough,” Cribley said. “You have to regroup and we tried not to let those thoughts about how close we came overcome us. It wasn’t easy.”
Syracuse had persevered after Allen’s backbreaking score for 20 more minutes and was rewarded with a winner-take-all scenario in penalty kicks. And with the stable of goal-scorers at his disposal, it could’ve been the chance McIntyre needed to pull away from the Hoyas.
But the head coach sent Juuso Pasanen, a freshman who did not appear in regulation or either overtime period, to start the shootout instead of a proven goal-scorer like Tony Asante or Louis Clark.
Pasanen missed the goal entirely, putting Syracuse at a disadvantage it would never recover from.
“Penalty kicks are sort of like the lottery,” McIntyre said in defense of using Pasanen in the critical situation. “We go with who wants a penalty kick the most, and that’s who we send out there.”
Georgetown never missed on its first four attempts, though. When Murrell — the fourth Syracuse shooter — misfired on his attempt, it secured the Hoyas’ win.
With the ball in his hands, Gomez sprinted by Murrell and past midfield. There, a pile of Georgetown players greeted him — a moment Murrell thought Syracuse could’ve had again, but it wasn’t meant to be.
“It’s disappointing to know that it’s over,” Murrell said. “This season was amazing, and we lost to an amazing opponent. I guess it fits, but you never want it to stop.”
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