Neumann Shocks Soccer World, Beats Messiah In NCAA Tournament
Grantham, PA - Neumann University shocked the soccer world on Sunday night, defeating the #1 Messiah College Falcons in the Second Round of the NCAA Division III Men’s Soccer Championships. The Knights’ Andrew Leissing scored a golden goal in the 98th minute of play to give Neumann a stunning victory on the Falcons’ Shoemaker Field.
The game’s lone score came off an assist from the Knights’ keeper, senior Bob Mastrillo, who launched a free kick from three-quarter field after an offside call on the Falcons. The ball dove over the 18-yard line, bouncing once as the Messiah defense and keeper Jake Berry moved together to clear the possession. Leissing, a senior and the Knights’ points leader in 2011, was able to flick the ball over Berry with his head to complete a stunning defeat of the nation’s top-ranked team.
“I just wanted to get a touch, get a flick on it,” said Leissing of the game’s final shot. “(Berry) came out and I was able to put it over him.”
The victory for Neumann (14-4-1) moves them into the Third Round of the NCAA Championships, where they will face Montclair State. The loss ends the season for the Falcons, who drop to 18-1-1 on the year. Coming into the 2011 tournament, the Falcons were three-time defending national champions.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling to win this game,” said Mastrillo, who made five saves on the evening for the Knights.“It’s everything you dream of—away, on their field, in overtime. They’re an amazing team.”
Throughout the game, the Falcons played amazingly. Messiah took 26 shots in all, including 18 in the second half and overtime combined. With each opportunity, however, Mastrillo and the Knights’ defense found ways to keep the Falcons’ shots out of the net.
“If there was one thing we struggled with tonight, and perhaps even throughout the year, it’s getting shots on goal,” said Messiah head coach Brad McCarty, the Falcons’ coach for two of their three consecutive national championships. “Our shooting percentage on goal has not been what we want, and that showed tonight.
“When you don’t finish shots, you open yourself up to what happened (tonight),” added McCarty. “In the end, Neumann found the one play they needed.”
Amazingly, the Knights’ came across their opportunity after striking only 11 shots of their own—and totaling zero corner kicks.
The Falcons took 12 corner kicks in the game, with many failing to clear the Knights’ first defender in the box.
“We definitely struggled with corners,” said McCarty. “There were times we got to the end line and made quality crosses, but in all those situations we weren’t able to connect.”
With Messiah playing on their home field, it seemed like only a matter of time before the “connection” would be made. Seniors Danny Thompson and Derek Black, and freshman Jack Thompson, especially, continued to pressure the Knights’ defense to the very end. Altogether, 12 different players for Messiah launched a shot; five shots went on goal, with Mastrillo saving each one.
A physical Knights’ defense found ways to thwart the Messiah attack each time.
“We knew they had not one good offensive line, but two,” said Neumann head coach Kevin Sloan, in his sixth season with the Knights. “We wanted to be prepared for their pressure on both sides of the field. For us, we had to keep things solid defensively, and I think we did an extremely good job.”
The Knights did do just that, meeting the physical play from the Falcons on both sides of the field. Each team was called for 11 fouls.
“We bought into the idea of keeping our energy up, even when they were pinching us into our half throughout regulation,” added Sloan. “We knew we would have only a few chances, so we had to give it everything we had.”
For Messiah, the loss is a stunning pause to one of the most incredible streaks in all of NCAA athletics. The Falcons entered the 2011 tournament as not only three-time defending champs, but as owners of eight of the last 11 national titles. Messiah had advanced to at least the Final Four for seven straight years, and had not fallen short of the "Final 16" since 1997.
The seniors on this year’s team end their careers with a record of 87-5-3.
“Our seniors have had unbelievable careers,” said McCarty. “We’ll miss them, and we’re disappointed mostly because we don’t get to spend another week with them on the field.”
Neumann will now wait to hear where they’ll play in the Third Round of the NCAA Championships, scheduled for next weekend.