The key point may have come with less than three minutes left in the Indiana-Creighton match. Indiana had proven themselves the better team for most of the match, but had failed to get several great chances in the back of the net, and was holding a 1-0 lead off of an early Femi Hollinger-Janzen score. In the last 20 minutes of the match, Creighton had once again discovered their offense, and already had a breakaway chance called back on offsides, and were pressing the attack. Still, Hoosier goallkeeper Luis Soffner hadn't yet been called on to make a save all night. Then Brendan Hines-Ike unleashed a beautiful curling blast that looked sure to even the score and send it to overtime, but Soffner made a spectacular leaping save to keep the Hoosiers in the lead. Hines-Ike had another chance in the closing seconds, but Soffner smothered that one, too, and the Hoosiers survived to play in the final against Georgetown.
The Hoosiers controlled much of the first 70 minutes against Creighton, testing Bluejay keeper Jeff Gal early and often. Gal cut off a number of crosses, and stifled great chances by AJ Corrado and Nikita Kotlov early, but although he got a piece of a shot by IU freshman Femi Hollinger-Janzen in the 27th minute, he couldn't keep it out of the net. Femi should've had another at the end of the first half, as he ripped one into the back of the net after a corner kick, but the referees ruled that it crossed the line after time expired, raising eyebrows among both Hoosier fans and neutral observers. Nonetheless, the Hoosiers came out strong in the second half, and Femi had a couple of chances that he should've done better with early on. Jacob Bushue, evidently still recovering from his knee injury, came on with 33 minutes left in regulation and put a header just over the bar. Creighton started getting their offense together at the 11th hour, but as Bruce Arena once said, nobody sits on a 1-0 lead like Indiana. The Hoosiers pulled six back in the box for the last stretch of the match, and although Creighton was able to test Soffner twice, they really weren't able to work their usual late game magic. There were some particular outstanding performances to note:
- Nikita Kotlov didn't score in this one, but continued to impress with his active work throughout the field. Good energy, footwork, and team-play surely impressed any scouts at the game.
- The midfield in general drew praise, but Dylan Lax has really established himself as a disruptor and no-nonsense defensive midfielder. He joins with Jacob Bushue, Femi Hollinger-Janzen, and Harrison Petts to give the Hoosiers control of the midfield, which really allowed Kotlov and Corrado to spring free early in the match.
- It was a cagey, strategic game by the Hoosiers that turned out fine. But I'd really like to see star striker Eriq Zavaleta find a way to assert himself against Georgetown, as the Bluejays gave him no room and never let him really become a threat.
- You have to love Luis Soffner's ability to be ready to pull out solid saves after sitting on his hands for most of the game. Sometimes that's the hardest thing, to shift from not really being involved to needing to show your best stuff at the flick of a switch.
The Hoosiers face Georgetown on Sunday in the title game. The Hoyas pulled out a beauty against Maryland, with a combination of aggressive attacking, and honestly, some lackadaisical defending on the part of the Terrapins. That first goal the Terps gave up... it was a good finish and all, but anytime you let a guy trap and turn and fire like that... heck, in high school we would've been running sprints after the game after letting that happen. But the second goal to give the Hoyas the lead was a fantastic shot, and seemed to put Maryland out of sorts. Georgetown did narrowly avoid defeat, actually. At first, they did a pretty good job of counter-attacking when Maryland sent players forward, Steve Neumann's third goal to put Georgetown in front 4-2, immediately after Maryland had cut the lead to one, seemed to put the game out of reach. But with 20 minutes left, the Terps seemed to wake up, scoring in the 74th and 77th minutes, and looked like they might overtake the Georgetown for a late winner with a number of quality chances. The Hoyas did well to withstand the assault to send the game to Penalty Kicks (where they won 4-3).
Give Georgetown credit, especially Steve Neumann. The junior had a great game, and his second goal was just reminiscent of Megan Rapinoe's second against Canada in the Olympics (and I mean that as the highest compliment). To notch a hat-trick in the College Cup is just amazing, and although Maryland's defense was probably the softest of the four teams coming in, Georgetown as a team just took advantage. Let's take a look at how the numbers match up.
Indiana offense vs Georgetown defense
Goals: 1.74 vs .83 allowed
Shots per game: 10.6 vs 11.7 allowed
SOG per game: 5.1 vs. 4.7 allowed
SOG % .432 vs .401 allowed
Tomas Gomez save percentage: .780
Georgetown offense vs Indiana defense
Goals: 1.62 vs. .78 allowed (.63 allowed in games with Bushue)
Shots per game: 16.2 vs. 10.3 allowed
SOG per game: 6.4 vs. 4.3 allowed
SOG % .397 vs. .418 allowed (.393)
Luis Soffner save percentage: .812
Looking over the statistics, I'll say this - there doesn't look to be a big difference here, but I'd give Indiana a slight advantage, especially given the statistics when Indiana has Bushue available. I sincerely doubt Georgetown is going to find as much space to work with as they did against Maryland, and I also kinda doubt they are able to repeat some of the beautiful finishes they enjoyed yesterday. But who knows, they've got their offensive mojo working. And I will say, I don't think the Hoosiers will find it easy to shut out Georgetown. But here's the thing, I think the Hoosiers are just more likely to score more goals than the Hoyas in the final tomorrow. The Hoosiers are better at putting shots on frame than the Hoyas, and Soffner has a superior save percentage than the Hoya's keeper, Tomas Gomez. Also, Georgetown has survived two PK shootouts to get here. Living dangerously doesn't usually pay off when trying tot win soccer championships, so I'm hoping the bounces (and *ahem* the calls) go the Hoosiers way tomorrow.
My revised Championship game prediction: Indiana 2, Georgetown 1.