It was close enough to touch.
On Thursday evening, Marquette Golden Eagles men’s soccer had a lead at halftime on #3 national seed Indiana Hoosiers in the Third Round of the NCAA tournament, and carried that forth well past the hour mark. The Golden Eagles just needed to close the door on the Hoosiers........ but then Indiana remembered that they are the #3 team in this tournament. Two goals less than 10 minutes apart, one in the 71st minute and one in the 80th, first equalized the match and then gave Indiana the 2-1 lead that they would hold on to until the final horn. Marquette’s season comes to an end with a record of 8-3-2, a Big East Midwest Division title, the program’s fourth NCAA tournament appearance, and second Sweet 16 appearance, while IU advances to the Elite Eight of the tournament to face Seton Hall.
For most of the first half, Marquette looked like the better team. That doesn’t necessarily hold up in the box score, as the Golden Eagles held just a 5-4 advantage in shots and corner kicks were even at two each. But when most of the 45 minutes is played outside of IU’s attacking end, particularly when the Hoosiers are supposed to be the clearly better team based on that #3 seed, well, then that makes it look like Marquette is the better team at least on this particular day.
That didn’t turn into a goal for Marquette, though, not until late in the first half. In the 44th minute, A.J. Franklin picked a fantastic time to score his first career goal in a Marquette uniform.
Let's get another look at this beauty pic.twitter.com/4SLrIW53pP— Marquette Soccer (@marquettesoccer) May 6, 2021
And what a fantastic goal from the top of the box in a huge spot for the first collegiate goal for the redshirt sophomore from Streamwood, Illinois.
The second half was infused with paperwork, as the referee issued seven yellow cards across the first 20 minutes after the intermission. I’d argue that it was a futile effort to maintain control of the match since so many cards were handed out, but also no one picked up a second card so the message was at least halfway received.
And then, in the 71st minute, a Marquette giveaway near midfield led to a transition chance for the Hoosiers, and MAC Hermann Trophy semifinalist Victor Bezerra slipped a pass through the last line of the MU defense for this goal by Herbert Endeley.
This is what we do! Onto the Elite 8 pic.twitter.com/q4fF2L5hGm— Herbert Endeley (@herbert_endeley) May 7, 2021
1-1. Marquette has been here before as the giant pile of overtime matches this season shows. The Golden Eagles know how to handle this kind of pressure.
Except Indiana’s really good, and you can’t give them chances, even messy ones.
Maouloune Goumballe cleaned up the trash in the 80th minute to put the Hoosiers up 2-1.
This highlight clips off a bit more of the scrum out in front of the net that really makes it clear that Marquette struggled to clear it away from keeper Chandler Hallwood. The sideline view from the Hoosiers’ bench makes it explicitly clear exactly how close MU was to keeping this match level.
Hard fought win tonight. Onto the Elite 8 pic.twitter.com/zexKl3WH0B— Maouloune Goumballe (@maouloune21) May 7, 2021
A slightly harder or even lighter bounce off the post, or a slightly different rebound off the post even, and Goumballe doesn’t have the angle to poke it into the net. That’s soccer, I guess.
Marquette did get one absolutely superb chance to tie the match in the 84th minute. Manuel Cukaj could not have possibly done more with a header dead in front of Indiana’s net, but keeper Roman Celentano was right there to fall on it. Cukaj played it perfectly, considering he leapt into the air to get to it, crashing it towards Celentano’s feet to make it hard for him to track down, but he did, and IU’s lead was safe. There was even one quality try with just under a minute to go as Marquette had a throw in deep in their offensive end, and the throw made it all the way to out in front of the net, but the Hoosiers were able to defend it away cleanly.
And so, that’s the season. A heartbreaking end to a ridiculous season, considering how many times Marquette won in overtime. A heartbreaking end to one of the best seasons in MU history, given it was one of just four NCAA tournament appearances ever and the fact that it came in a year where the NCAA reduced the size of the at-large field due to the pandemic.
Since it’s all over, we have to tip our cap to Oliver Posarelli and Manuel Cukaj, the two Golden Eagles who were honored on Senior Day earlier in the season. These two guys have been through a hell of a lot for Marquette soccer, with both men missing an entire season along the way due to injury. Posarelli’s playing time this season in fact might have been made possible by the pandemic postponing the season to the spring, as he suffered a season ending injury early in the 2019 campaign. Who can say if the guy who finished #2 on the team in minutes played would have been able to do that in September and October instead of February and March? Cukaj has been a defensive stalwart for Marquette for his entire career, and he’s one of the tougher dudes on the field that you’ll ever see. In addition to his responsibilities on the defensive end, he finishes his collegiate tenure with six career goals and two assists, and damn near had a seventh goal to equalize this match. I’m never going to forget seeing him get dropkicked in the damn face in the eighth minute against Creighton earlier this season and then return to play 37 minutes in the second half like nothing had happened.
With Marquette having to play so much high intensity soccer this year with all of the overtime matches that they had to play, the Golden Eagles’ defense had to come up big again and again, and both Posarelli and Cukaj were big parts of that all year long. It’s absolutely wonderful that they got to end their college careers with an NCAA tournament appearance as a reward for all of the hard work, including injury rehab, that they’ve put in over the last few years. We send them both a big Anonymous Eagle THANK YOU and wish them nothing but the best in whatever the future holds for them.