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Mountaineers roar back after allowing early goal to top Lions 3-1, punching ticket to program’s 1st College Cup

MORGANTOWN — The West Virginia University men’s soccer team continued its historical campaign on Saturday by defeating Loyola Marymount 3-1, earning a spot in the national semifinals at the 2023 College Cup next Friday in Louisville, Ky.

The match opened with a swift pace to it and the Lions (10-5-6) took an early lead less than two minutes into the first half but the Mountaineers (17-2-4) equalized shortly after and found the go-ahead goal in the 16th minute to carry a 2-1 advantage into halftime. The third and final goal for WVU came in the 66th minute and sealed the victory for the Mountaineers to advance to their first College Cup in program history.

“Incredible, special feeling for the group,” WVU head coach Dan Stratford said. “We didn’t have the greatest start going a goal down but finding the equalizer within ten minutes was important. They played a bit differently than we had scouted and really seen all season, so fair play to them, they had a good game plan and it took us by surprise. Once we adapted we got better and better as the game went on. I’m so proud of this group.”

A mistimed pass in the WVU defense allowed LMU’s Steven Anderson to pounce on the ball and find himself with a chance to shoot. He slotted the ball between the legs of WVU keeper Jackson Lee to give the Lions a 1-0 lead less than two minutes into the match.

However, it didn’t take long for WVU to settle down and find an equalizing goal that came off of the foot of fifth-year senior Luke McCormick. Midfielder Otto Ollikainen played a perfectly weighted pass into the path of the Derby, England native, and McCormick tied the game at one goal each in the ninth minute.

Then, just seven minutes later, the Mountaineers took the lead after Lee played a long ball from the WVU six-yard box down the field that took one bounce and skipped over the defensive line of LMU. WVU defender Sergio Ors-Navarro took possession and weaved his way into the final third of the Lions before tucking the ball away into the back of the net giving his team a 2-1 lead into the locker room.

“Stratford spoke about trusting our ability and sticking to what had been working,” WVU’s Ryan Crooks said. “We knew we wanted another goal and kept pushing to get it and put the game away.”

WVU did just as they planned to do in the second half, controlling the majority of the possession and finding opportunities in the attacking third. Eventually, the reward came after a spell of pressure was applied inside of the LMU 18-yard box.

Crooks worked the ball on the right side and managed to find the space to cut a pass back into a dangerous area. The ball bounced to the feet of winger Yutaro Tsukada who slotted home his seventh goal to extend the lead to two goals at 3-1 in the 67th minute.

The score would remain unchanged from then on, as WVU punched its ticket to the 2023 College Cup.

“I had to have a moment and enjoy what we’ve achieved and where we are as a program right now, and it’s everything,” Stratford said. “I’ve spent the better part of 20 years in this state and it’s wild. I never got to play in a game like that and this is the next best thing. They have the best job in the world, and I have the second-best job in the world. I get to coach and they get to play. We will enjoy this now but by no means are we done. I took this job with the belief that we could win a national championship.”

West Virginia will kickoff at 6 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 8th from Lynn Family Soccer Complex in Louisville against No. 9 Clemson, which defeated Stanford in its quarterfinal match Saturday.