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Mountaineers bow out of College Cup with 1-0 loss to Clemson

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The West Virginia men’s soccer team saw its historic 2023 campaign come to an end in the semifinals of the 2023 College Cup on Friday night in Louisville.

The Mountaineers (17-3-4) fell 1-0 to the No. 9 Clemson Tigers, with the difference-making goal coming in the first half off of the foot of Clemson defender Shawn Smart.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the team and the effort we showed coming here for the first time as a program,” WVU head coach Dan Stratford said. “My feeling right now is that we were the better team and deserved more from the game. The one thing we can do is hold our heads high and be proud of the effort and quality of our performance.”

Despite WVU having the ball for 60% of the game in possession, the Tigers (14-3-5) were the team to open the match on the front foot. For nearly the entirety of the opening 10 minutes of the match, Clemson worked the ball well from side to side, settling quickly into the flow of the game.

The Mountaineers eventually began to find some offense and used some good build-up play to create threats. WVU winger Yutaro Tsukada was finding space on the left wing that gave Clemson fits early on.

The first clear chance came with 15 minutes played as a dangerous cross trickled through the box before being redirected toward the goal, however, WVU keeper Jackson Lee made a save with his shin to keep the game scoreless early on.

With just under 15 to play until the break, a good passing sequence found Tsukada in the box in a dangerous area. He found Sergio Ors Navarro who had made an overlapping run on the outside and saw some space for a shot, but Clemson keeper Joseph Andema was equal to the task and sent the ball wide of the post with a fingertip save.

A few minutes passed before a mis-clear by the WVU defense rewarded the Tigers with the ball in a dangerous area in the middle of the attacking third. Fifth-year senior Mohamed Seye played a headed pass into the path of Shawn Smart, who fired the ball on a half-volley into the top-right corner of the net with a laser of a shot, giving Clemson a 1-0 lead going into the break.

“We were aware of (Smart’s) qualities, we recruited him before he went to Clemson,” Stratford said of the Clemson goal-scorer. “They had several players we had an eye on. Smart gets up and down the field and they tried to overload that side at times. It was a good ball that had some spin and sat up for him and he did well with the chance.”

WVU came out of the locker room positively and held the ball on offense for nearly the entire second half. Sophomore striker Marcus Caldeira nearly found an equalizer with 30 minutes in regulation with an open chance but his effort sailed over the crossbar.

A few other chances would present themselves throughout the second half for the Mountaineers but after being unable to find a goal, they saw their season come to an end to Clemson in the 2023 College Cup 1-0.

“This has been a really special group to be around from day one to the final whistle tonight,” Stratford said. “All the seniors did an incredible job. It’s sad because I love all those guys and it’s tough to see some of them move on. They’ve served the state and the school so well. They’re just great lads.”

The 2023 Mountaineer squad made history in multiple ways during their latest campaign. WVU went undefeated at home in Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium on its way to a program record 17 wins. The Mountaineers reached the highest-ever ranking at No. 2 nationally in September and reached the national semifinals in the men’s College Cup for the first time in program history.