Eric Francis / Creighton Athletics
The stage is set.
The final two quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament are in the books, and the venue shifts next Friday to Birmingham, Alabama, where a new College Cup champion will be crowned next weekend.
Creighton 1, South Florida 0
Senior forward Ethan Finlay’s 97th-minute strike in the first overtime period broke a scoreless stalemate and clinched Creighton’s spot in the College Cup with a 1-0 win over South Florida.
The game, which was originally scheduled for Saturday, was bumped to Sunday thanks to a heavy snowfall in Omaha, Neb. With the cleared field, the Bulls looked to find a way to crack Creighton, who boast the nation’s best defense.
It was the Bluejays offense looking the more dominant side, however, and in the 12th minute Jose Gomez had his goal-bound header blocked off the line by USF goalkeeper Chris Blais.
Five minutes later, Gomez had another chance when Finlay hustled to keep a ball alive, and slotted low across the USF goal. However, the Gomez’s touch was close enough for Blais to divert out of the way.
The Bluejays outshot the Bulls 20-6 throughout the game, they failed to make the chances pay in the second half.
That changed in extra time as Finlay finally punched Creighton’s ticket with three minutes left in the first period. His deflected shot beat Blais to send the home team through to the semifinals.
UConn 1, UNC Charlotte 1 (Charlotte wins 4-2 on PKs)
Once again it was the agony of penalty kicks sending the Connecticut Huskies packing from the NCAA tournament. The Huskies missed twice from the spot, as the No. 3 seed — heavy favorites to advance to the College Cup for the first time since 2000 — were upset on their home field.
It ended 4-2 on penalties in favor of Charlotte after a 1-1 draw after extra time. Tony Cascio scored for the Huskies and Giuseppe Gentile found the back of the net for the 49ers, both in the final 10 minutes of regulation.
In another tight affair, the visitors had the best chance of the game early on, with Gentile’s header saved by UConn goalkeeper Andre Blake in the 14th minute.
As the game progressed the Huskies offense began to take control, and in the 18th minute, Cascio fired a shot just wide of the post.
But Charlotte were by no means overmatched, and in the 39th minute, Robby Thomas drilled a 30-yard shot from distance that had eyes for the upper corner. However, a lunging save by Blake kept the game scoreless.
Just before the break, the Huskies almost scored again as Cascio went on a weaving, mazy run through the Charlotte defense. With just the ‘keeper to beat, his chipped shot glanced off the post and was cleared.
The close defensive battle continued in the second half before Cascio latched on to the end of a long ball from Carlos Alvarez and calmly slotted home in the 81st minute to give UConn a lead.
It was short lived, however, as Gentile scored three minutes later off a long throw to tie the game at 1-1.
That eventually sent it to spot kicks where, for the third straight year, the Huskies came up short.
Travis Clark covers D.C. United, college and youth soccer for MLSsoccer.com