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Tsukada’s goal gives WVU 1-0 win over Louisville in NCAA Tournament opener

MORGANTOWN — The West Virginia men’s soccer team’s ultimate goal is to make it to Louisville for next month’s national championship. The first step toward that goal came Sunday, when the Mountaineers defeated Louisville, 1-0, at a sun-splashed Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium.

Senior Yutaro Tsukada’s goal in the 72nd minute was the difference as the Mountaineers (15-2-4) prevailed in the low-scoring affair in front of 3,137 home fans.

“I thought they were a worthy adversary on the day, I thought they played well,” WVU coach Dan Stratford said. “They lasted longer than we would’ve hoped in terms of the energy levels, but midway through the second half think we started to show territorial dominance.”

The Mountaineers had a flurry of chances in the lead-up to Tsukada’s goal receiving two free kicks and two corner kicks in a five-minute span. None of those chances resulted in goals, however.

“It was a little bit frustrating, but we felt that it was coming,” midfielder Ryan Baer said. “Towards that middle part of the second half we started dominating the game. It felt like it was coming and it did.”

WVU grabbed a loose ball following a Louisville throw in and Tsukada found enough space to dribble left in front of the UL goal and shoot back right to find the net.

“We pressed and we got the ball and then I saw space in front of me,’ Tsukada said. “The center back came out to me and I shot and scored the goal.

“It’s not my effort, it’s the team’s effort.”

The Cardinals (12-6-3) won a high-scoring first-round game over Dayton, 4-3, on Thursday to advance to the second round. As the No. 5 seed, West Virginia received a first-round bye and had a week of rest.

“As long as you’re still in the contest by the hour mark, which obviously we were, then you like to think it’ll start to take over,” Stratford said. “A big advantage in terms of the physical component, but it’s making sure you get over the psychological aspects of managing the expectations and pressure of being the five-seed.”

WVU dominated statistically after halftime, taking 10 second-half shots to UL’s two with two corner kicks to the Cardinals’ zero.

Louisville had the first quality scoring chance of the game 16 minutes in when Gage Guerra was presented with an open WVU goal and the ball coming his way. Guerra’s sliding kick sailed harmlessly over the goal, however.

West Virginia’s best chance of the first half came when Marcus Caldeira’s header was turned away by UL keeper Alex Svetanoff in the 21st minute.

WVU kept the Cardinals off the scoreboard again a few minutes later when a shot got past goalie Jackson Lee, but was turned away by a West Virginia defender for a team save.

Lee made two saves in a 40-second span in the final 10 minutes to preserve the win.

The Mountaineers will play the winner of UCF and  Vermont in the third round of the tournament on either Saturday or Sunday of next week.

With JMU’s 1-0 upset win over No. 4 Georgetown earlier Sunday, West Virginia holds home-field advantage for the third and fourth rounds of the tournament as well.