(Filmed by Katie Hopkins. Edited by Katie Hopkins and Brad Young.)
Playing USF to a 2-2 draw after 110 minutes of play, the FGCU men’s soccer team defeated the Bulls 3-0 in penalty kicks to advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history.
“What a great day for our program, and what a great day for our university,” FGCU head coach Bob Butehorn said. “Look, it’s a long time coming, but I’m proud of the group I did it with. These guys earned everything they got tonight, so I’m very proud of the group.”
Albert Ruiz scored his 21st goal of the season in the first half, and a second half equalizer from Justin Gavin gave the Eagles the two goals necessary to play an extra twenty minutes before eventually heading into penalties.
Playing with just three defenders in the back as they have all season, Eli Roubos led the Eagles’ backline through the full 110 minutes of play, making countless defensive stops in the Eagles’ final third to to keep FGCU in level.
“I thought I played better than usual,” Roubos said. “I felt I communicated better with my midfielders and the other defenders with me. They heled me a lot by listening to what I was saying and knowing where they need to be, which helped us a lot.”
In the first half, FGCU came out very strong, dominating possession and playing patiently on offense very similar to the way it started against JU in the ASUN Championship final.
The Eagles’ countless possessions and their 6-1 shot advantage paid off in the 26th minute when Jiro Barriga Toyama found Arion Sobers-Assue, who laid the ball off to Ruiz, as he slotted the ball past Spasoje Stefanovic to give FGCU a 1-0 lead.
In the dying minutes of the first half, USF was able to string along a bit of possession that resulted in a goal from Lindo Mfeka to go into the half tied up at one.
In the second half, USF controlled the bulk of possession, as the Eagles did in the first, keeping the FGCU backline on its heels before scoring the go ahead in the 54th minute thanks to a goal by Marcus Epps.
Revamping the pressure on offense after conceding a goal, Justin Gavin tapped home the equalizer in the 61st minute to bring the game level at two.
After back-and-forth action in the remaining 26 minutes of action, both sides were unable to find the game-winning goal, requiring two 10-minute periods of overtime before heading into penalties to decide who went home and who kept dancing.
The two overtime periods shared the same type of play as the remaining 26 minutes of the second half showed, with neither team finding any clean looks at goal to end the match in overtime.
With the game headed to penalties to determine who would face UNC in the next round, the Eagles huddled around Butehorn one final time with the fate of their season in their hands.
“I just told them I believe,” Butehorn said. “That’s been the consistent message. They have done such a good job at picking me up and picking this team up when they needed to, and I just believed.”
Rielee Mohsin was the first player to step up to the spot for the Eagles in PKs, burying the ball to the keeper’s left to give FGCU a 1-0 lead.
Looking to equalize for the Bulls, Gonzalo Rodriguez’s shot from the spot smacked the crossbar, keeping FGCU up 1-0.
Eli Roubos was the next one to step to the spot for FGCU, but his effort was met by the hands of Stefanovic.
With a chance to equalize once again for USF, Ricardo Gomez had his effort saved by Jared Brown before Miguel Jaime converted his PK to extend the Eagles’ lead to two.
Stepping up to the spot for the Bulls third was Nazeem Bartman, but he was unable to score, sending the ball wide left.
“When I saw the other kid, No. 9 (Nazeem Bartman), missing the PK, I told my teammates, ‘We are in the next round,’” Ruiz said. “We are just so calm, so confident. I knew that PK was going in, and I told them, ‘Hey guys, we just made it to the next round.’ And, that’s exactly what happened.”
With a chance to send the Eagles through, Ruiz, the nation’s leading goal scorer, buried the ball in the back of the net to send FGCU to the second round of the College Cup for the first time in program history.
The No. 20 Eagles will now head to Chapel Hill, North Carolina to face ninth-seeded UNC in the second round of the NCAA College Cup on Sunday at 7 p.m.
“I think we are going to come out and play the same game we have been playing the entire season,” Roubos said. “We’re going to give them our best game. Hopefully, they give us their best game, and it’s going to be a great game to play in.”
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(EN Photos / Brad Young)