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SURVIVE AND ADVANCE! Marquette Men’s Soccer Advances To Big East Semifinals On Penalty Kicks

A wild second half ended with the two teams tied, but Leo Villa sent the Golden Eagles to Omaha in the 9th round of kicks.

Leo Villa
Leo Villa: Hero Of The Day
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oh my god what a night what a match that was totally bonkers

On Saturday night, Marquette men’s soccer hosted Xavier in the quarterfinals of the 2018 Big East conference tournament, and the official line coming out of the league office in New York is that the match was an instant classic.

Well, maybe if you’re a neutral observer. For those of us partisan patrons, it was a wildly disorganized mess with a complete lack of interest from the officials that led to things getting more and more out of control as the night progressed. Thankfully for those of us in blue and gold, Marquette rallied from a 1-0 halftime deficit and from an 83rd minute equalizer by Xavier to finally advance to the Big East semifinals due to penalty kicks. Marquette’s first conference tournament appearance since 2014 has turned into their first semifinals appearance since 2013, which is pretty neat.

For most of the first half, Marquette had control of the match. There were just two sections where they lost the reins for a moment. First, there was this turnover that led immediately to Xavier going up 1-0 in the 12th minute.

Credit where credit is due to the Musketeers for reacting quickly to put the people in place to make the passes to get Derrick Otim open for the scoring shot.

That goal was Xavier’s only shot of the match for the first 41 minutes of action. Things definitely seemed to be going Marquette’s way for the rest of the match, but the final few minutes cast a shadow on that. Xavier racked up three more shots in the last 3:10 of the first half, forcing MU keeper Luis Barraza to make his first save of the match to keep the margin at just one at the break.

The writing was on the wall as to where the match was going in the second half. Xavier committed nine fouls in the first half against just two for Marquette, and that encouraged both teams to get a little wild with it in terms of physicality in the second half. Weirdly, the referee had no interest in having control of the match, and the next 45 minutes were akin to a brawl more than a soccer match, up to the point where I became convinced that the game winning goal would be scored with a player bloodied and on the ground.

That didn’t happen, but the wild nature of the run of play led to three wild goals being scored in the second half, with all of them coming in the final half hour of the match. First, it was Luka Prpa leveling the match at one each with this deft second touch.

Excuse me as I pause for a second here: Why isn’t Zak Wegner credited for a secondary assist on this goal? Is it because his long ball to the corner was too far ahead of Patrick Seagrist to really be called a pass? My counter to that is that Seagrist doesn’t make the pass to Prpa unless Wegner kicks him open for it. Anyway.

In the 72nd minute, Marquette got free with it on a break, and it turned into this insanity. Diego Nunez gets the goal as XU keeper Colin Hanley only manages to get a bit of an arm on it and that’s all. Hanley not getting all of a shot will be very important later.

Marquette’s rally to a 2-1 lead matched their rally in the regular season match between the two sides which also took place at Valley Fields, so the feelings in the stands were that MU had this under wraps. Remember when I mentioned the lack of control from the officials? Yeah. Things just kept getting dumber and dumber over the next 10 minutes, so it’s not a surprise that All-Big East honoree Samson Sergi found a way to put it into the net in the 83rd minute.

The final seven minutes were dotted by two shots from Marquette, one shot from Xavier, and two yellow cards issued to the Musketeers. Yellow cards with time winding down in an elimination match that’s currently tied pretty much explains the Musketeer tactics in this game, if you catch my drift. In any case, time finally expired with the two sides still tied, so that meant overtime.

Both sides got off one shot each in the first 10 minutes of extra time, with Barraza needing to make his sixth save of the night to keep the match going. The next 10 minutes went by without a shot from either end, which officially ends the match in a draw. It’s a tournament, though, and that means penalty kicks.

Things started out completely even through the first three kicks, but it almost wasn’t. Both sides scored on their first three kicks, but the sound of the ball thwacking off of Hanley’s gloves when Luka Prpa went first for Marquette was noticeable throughout the Valley. On the fourth round, things went sideways for the Golden Eagles as Hanley stopped Diego Nunez’s attempt, giving Xavier a 4-3 lead with just one preset round left to go.

And then Xavier’s Matt Nance put his attempt into the post.

Connor Alba calmly popped his attempt in, and we went on to sudden victory kicks knotted at four each.

Both sides scored on attempts six and seven, but hearts and stomachs got all topsy-turvy on round #8. Xavier’s Cameron Belle put a shot into the post again while trying to push the ball too far away from Barraza, giving Marquette a chance to win.... but Hanley saved Alan Salmeron’s attempt.

On to the ninth round.

To this point, as you may have noticed, Luis Barraza hadn’t stopped a single PK. Xavier’s two misses were both because they had pushed the shot wide. So, of course it makes sense that the Big East Goalkeeper of the Year was there when the Golden Eagles needed him the most. Barraza made a save on Bryce Curran’s attempt, and for what felt like about an hour, Curran’s ball went rocketing up into the air instead of back at him or off to the side. Given his positioning at the time, there was nothing else that Barraza could do with the ball...... except watch it come down and land on top of the net and out of play. You’ve never seen a soccer ball hang in the air like that before. It took forever to land.

That gave control of the shootout to Leo Villa, the junior transfer from UW-Parkside.

He went high left, Hanley went diving right, mass hysteria ensues. The sight of Villa, Lukas Sunesson, and the entire Marquette roster bolting over to the sidelines to celebrate with the accumulated men’s soccer alumni at the match was a delightful thing to watch.

How about some highlights, courtesy of the Big East Digital Network and GoMarquette.com?

Up Next: A trip to Omaha on Wednesday for the Big East semifinals. Creighton Bluejays is the #1 seed in the conference tournament after finishing the regular season with a record of 7-1-1. With the regular season title in hand, the Jays got to skip the quarterfinal round, so they’ve been resting since Halloween’s regular season finale, which they lost to Georgetown in overtime. Marquette threw a bit of a scare into the Jays at Morrison Stadium in the regular season when Leo Villa (hey, what are the chances?) scored in the 80th minute to knot the match at 1, but Creighton scored quickly off the restart to win 2-1.