Panthers Defeat Marshall In C-USA Title Game

David Drucker/ Staff Writer

The men’s soccer team (12-6-1) captured their first ever Conference USA title on Sunday, Nov. 16 in a 1-0 victory over Marshall University. In addition to earning their first conference title since 2004, the victory guaranteed the Panthers’ a chance to compete for a national title in the NCAA tournament.

Both Florida International University and Marshall University were unlikely participants in the C-USA championship. FIU’s 3-4-1 regular season conference record earned them the #5 seed in the tournament. The Panthers fought their way to the title game by way of a magnificent 4-2 victory over No. 4 Old Dominion University in the quarterfinals and an upset of No. 1 University of Kentucky in the semifinals. Although FIU had defeated ODU once during the regular season when they were ranked the No. 9 team nationally, no team in C-USA had beaten the Wildcats this season prior to their loss to the Panthers.

If FIU fought against the odds to reach the title game, then one might consider Marshall’s appearance a near miracle. Marshall snuck into the tournament as the No. 7 seed with a 2-5-1 regular season conference record. In the tournament, however, the Herd rallied behind goalkeeper Dominik Reining and played excellent defense, taking down No. 2 University of Charlotte in penalty kicks and shutting out No. 3 University of South Carolina 1-0. In the end, an improbable match versus the No. 5 and No. 7 seeds pitted C-USA’s best scoring offense in FIU versus the conference’s best goalkeeper.

FIU dominated the match at every turn. The Panthers played an aggressive style from the first touch, totaling 11 shots in the first half and landed six of them on goal. Reining managed five saves in the first half, however and FIU was kept scoreless early on. Junior goalkeeper Arthur Clapot and his back line also turned in an impressive defensive performance in the first half, allowing Marshall only three shots. At halftime, the two C-USA underdogs were tied up at 0-0.

After the half, the two teams traded possession until FIU’s attack finally produced a score in the 75th minute. The winning goal came when Daniel Gonzalez served Lopez the ball off of a corner kick. Lopez headed the ball from 10 yards out into the top left of the Thundering Herd’s net to put his team up 1-0. The goal was third Lopez’s third of the season.

Marshall dominated possession in the last 15 minutes, but could not produce a goal. Sunday’s match was the first time Marshall had been shut out by a team since Oct. 19 when the Thundering Herd was defeated 1-0 by Florida Atlantic University.

Gonzalez was named the tournament’s offensive Most Valuable Player for his assist and goal against Old Dominion, goal against Kentucky in the semifinals and assist in Sunday’s match against Marshall.

The win gave FIU its first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 2004, when they received an automatic bid for winning the Atlantic Soccer Conference. The Panthers were eliminated from that tournament courtesy of the University of Central Florida Knights in the first round. The Panthers are set to play the University of Tulsa in the first round of the tournament.

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