Menís Soccerís Historic Season Comes To A Close At #3 Clemson 3-1
CLEMSON, S.C. – Playing in its first NCAA Sweet 16, the #14 seed University at Albany men’s soccer program (13-6-2) faced off against #3 seed Clemson (14-3-5) at the Tigers’ Historic Riggs Field on Sunday night. The Great Danes’ program-best run came to an abrupt end, falling 3-1 to the Tigers.
“Of course we’re disappointed with the result,” said head coach Trevor Gorman. “Congratulations to Clemson – they’re an outstanding team.”
The first half was played fairly evenly, with Clemson perhaps pressing it’s advantage to a slightly greater extent than UAlbany. Clemson had more scoring opportunities than UAlbany, outshooting the Danes by a 6-2 margin, but UAlbany did break through with a handful of its own chances.
“I felt it was an even match,” said Gorman. “Unfortunately, a few key moments didn’t go our way.”
Clemson took two shots in the first five minutes of the game. UAlbany’s first shot didn’t come until the ninth minute, when sophomore forward Nico Solabarrieta broke through the Tigers’ defense but missed his shot high. Two minutes later, senior midfielder Leo Melgar also missed a shot high.
The Tigers’ best chance to score early came in the 15th minute when they crossed the ball low across the mouth of the UAlbany goal. The Tigers’ forward who broke through behind the defense missed the volley into the open net, and instead the ball sailed away harmlessly.
It looked as though the game was headed into halftime tied 0-0, but Clemson midfielder Austen Burnikel ripped a shot past UAlbany goalkeeper Danny Vitiello’s right side from the six-yard box off a pass into the center. Clemson took a 1-0 lead into the half. Neither team took a corner kick in the first half.
“To conceded just before halftime is always difficult,” said Gorman, “but our response early in the second half was fantastic.”
UAlbany scored less than two minutes into the second half to tie the game 1-1. Carlos Clark retrieved a deflected ball from Afonso Pinheiro in the Clemson box to catch the Tigers’ goalkeeper off balance and net the ball to the far side.
UAlbany kept up the offensive pressure through the first part of the second half, drawing even with Clemson on total shots for the game at six. UAlbany almost scored again in the 51st minute when Clark found Solabarrieta breaking through the Clemson box. Solabarrieta’s break was intercepted by Clemson’s goalkeeper, however.
“If we had scored that second goal during that period of pressure, who knows what happens,” said Gorman.
Clemson turned the pressure back on to the tune of two scoring chances that narrowly fell short, including a point blank shot that was saved by Vitiello on the left side of the goal.
The Great Danes earned the first corner kick of the game with 27 minutes remaining in the second half. The play into the box was punched away by Clemson’s keeper.
Clemson scored its second goal in the 81st minute off of a corner kick. The corner from the left side was played into the middle of the UAlbany box and Burnikel headed the shot in, catching the UAlbany defense on its heels.
Vitiello saved another point-blank shot in the 83rd minute, deflecting the rip out of bounds. Clemson scored once more on the subsequent corner kick, with Alex Happi scoring on a rebound off the crossbar. The Tigers would hold this lead until the end of regulation, ending the game 3-1.
“Overall, I’m very proud of this team,” said Gorman. “As always, our effort, desire, and energy were incredible. We also thank so many of our incredible fans who made the trip to support us.”
UAlbany’s season is now concluded, and it was a season of firsts. This team won the program’s first ever America East title, and played in, hosted, and won it’s first-ever NCAA tournament game. The regular season saw the Great Danes defeated then-#3 Syracuse, the highest ranked opponent ever beaten by a UAlbany program at home. Pinheiro became the all-time program leader in career goals and points, and the all-time single season leader in points. Senior Luke Palmateer played in more games in his career than any Great Dane in program history. Finally, the 2016 squad ranks behind only the 2008 team in offense in program history.
Though the end result was disappointing, the UAlbany men’s soccer program can take the results of the 2016 season and build on its successes for the future.