If you hate scoreless draws and penalty kicks, there was nothing for you to see in the College Cup semifinals Friday night. But if you like quality goalkeeping, there was plenty of that on display in the games played at Sporting Park in Kansas City.
Clemson goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell had the game of his life, keeping Syracuse off the board through 90 minutes of regulation and two overtimes before saving the first penalty kick attempt in the shootout to give his team a lead they would not relinquish.
The Orange were clearly the better team throughout the night, but left several chances wanting. Ben Polk, Chris Nanco and Oyvind Alseth all had their opportunities to break the scoreless draw and send Syracuse through to their first ever title game, but Tarbell was in the way (and perhaps in their heads) every time. The junior from Louisiana finished with eight saves on the night while senior defender Kyle Fisher showed why he's one of the top defensive prospects in the upcoming MLS SuperDraft.
Syracuse reserve forward Kenny Lassiter, who spent time with the Philadelphia Union Academy, came off the bench to play 16 minutes in the match. Academy alums Morgan Hackworth and Chris Gomez did not play.
The second match of the night between star-studded and offensively explosive Akron and Stanford promised goals and looked like it might deliver right out of the gate when USMNT forward Jordan Morris chased down a long ball early in the game, but that chance fizzled out like so many would on the night.
For large stretches of the game, Morris, a first-time All-American and MAC Hermann Trophy finalist, disappeared. Akron's offense wasn't much better - save for a couple of plays created by their talented sophomore midfielder and leading goalscorer Richie Laryea the Zips were unable to break down a Stanford back line featuring All-American left back Brandon Vincent and Lancaster County natives Drew Skundrich (right back) and Brian Nana-Sinkham (center back).
Vincent nearly set up Foster Langsdorf for a winner early into overtime, but Akron keeper Jake Fenlason somehow got a hand on the ball to knock it away. Fenlason also stopped Langsdorf, a sophomore out of the Portland Timbers Academy, on a breakaway in the 31st minute.
Laryea had a break of his own in the latter of stages of overtime that Cardinal goalkeeper Andrew Epstein did well to cut out. Epstein, a junior out of the Colorado Rapids Academy, also made a save to finally end the penalty shootout in the 10th round. Skundrich missed the first penalty to put Stanford in a hole, but Epstein's save on Adam Najem's attempt kept the Cardinal alive. Nana-Sinkham, who like Skundrich played for PA Classics in the U.S. Development Academy, converted his attempt.
Stanford will play for its first national championship against a Clemson program that won it in 1984 and 1987 on Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. on ESPNU.
-Sporting Park looked empty on TV, but the recorded attendance was 4,047, about 50 fewer people than showed up to the semifinals at Talen Energy Stadium (PPL Park) in Chester two years ago. The temperature Friday night was in the 50s; it was in the 20s in Philadelphia two years ago.
-While it didn't show in the boxscore of a scoreless draw, Julian Buescher was arguably the best player on the field in either game Friday night not wearing a different color shirt, the 22-year-old sophomore from Germany making a case for a Generation adidas offer.
-No College Cup has ever had both semifinal games end in scoreless draws. North Carolina and Charlotte both advanced to the 2011 final on penalties, North Carolina after a 2-2 draw with UCLA and Charlotte after a scoreless draw with Creighton.
-College soccer allows players who haven't played in the game to take penalties, something that happened in both games last night. Mark Verso and Adam Mosharrafa both converted for Stanford; Tyler Sanda, Pau Belana and Adi Dakar converted for Akron; and Oskar Sewerin missed his attempt for Syracuse.