HOOVER, Ala. – Ben Speas put away the final penalty as North Carolina advanced to its third NCAA Championship match in school history on Friday. The Tar Heels claimed a 3-1 shootout win after battling No. 13 UCLA to a 2-2 draw after 110 minutes.
The Tar Heels will face a familiar foe in Charlotte in the title game on Sunday — Carolina claimed a rain-shortened 2-1 victory against the 49ers during the exhibition season.
The Tar Heels found themselves in a familiar position being level after 110 minutes of action. Carolina claimed three consecutive draws in the NCAA tournament a year ago to advance to the College Cup and used the experience of goalkeeper Scott Goodwin to its advantage to claim a fourth consecutive shootout victory.
UCLA took the first penalty as its captain Andy Rose stepped to the spot to face Goodwin. Rose attempted to go low left on Goodwin and the junior goalkeeper made the stop to put UNC in the driver’s seat. Carolina’s captain then proceeded to deliver a 1-0 advantage as he went low to put the Tar Heels in front.
Goodwin made another tremendous save on Kelyn Rowe before senior Drew McKinney gave Carolina a 2-0 lead as he converted his penalty.
Following a Victor Munoz make, Billy Schuler had a chance to put Carolin in front 3-1, but his attempt hit the left post and bounced out giving UCLA a chance. Bruin midfielder Fernando Monge pushed his attempt wide left giving Carolina a chance at the win.
Junior Ben Speas delivered the win for the Tar Heels as he converted his penalty and punched Carolina’s ticket into the NCAA National Championship match.
The Tar Heels and Bruins delivered an impressive 110 minutes of soccer in a match that saw UCLA jump out to a 1-0 lead in the first half before the Tar Heels answered in the second only to give up a goal with 15 minutes to play. Carolina answered once again with an equalizer in the 85th minute to push the match into extra time.
UCLA’s Ryan Hollingshead delivered a brilliant goal early in the match when he struck a ball from 22 yards out that snuck in under the cross bar to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead in the 17th minute. Hollingshead gathered a pass from Chandler Hoffman and found open space at the top of the box before putting away his third goal of the year.
The Tar Heels challenged goalkeeper Brian Rowe after the initial tally and nearly found an equalizer in the 37th minute when Billy Schuler turned on his defender at the top of the box and bent a ball toward the far post. Rowe was able to get a fist on the ball to deflect it off the cross bar before his teammates cleared it out for a corner kick.
Ben Speas nearly found the back of the net just before the break as he sent a shot in from 25 yards out that found the outside of the far post sending the teams into halftime with the Bruins holding a 1-0 lead.
Speas’ determination came through in the 56th minute when he made a run down the left flank and cut in on his defender. Speas worked his way into the box and chipped a cross toward the middle of the six-yard box where Rob Lovejoy connected on a driving header that beat Rowe to knot things up at 1-1.
UCLA nearly gained a goal advantage seven minutes later when Hollingshead had a chance to put away a cross that made its way across the goal mouth but Goodwin made a sliding save to keep the match even.
The Bruins eventually found a go-ahead goal in the 74th minute when Kelyn Rowe finished off a give-and-go with Chandler Hoffman with a right-footed chip over a charging Scott Goodwin.
The Tar Heels pressed forward after falling behind for the second time in the match and were struggling to break through the Bruin defense until Enzo Martinez rose to the occasion.
Martinez found the ball at his feet in space five yards shy of midfield and dribbled to his right before unleashing a shot from well over 35 yards out. Martinez sent the shot toward the far post but Rowe was able to get a hand on the ball. The shot deflected to Rowe’s left before ricocheting off the far post and across the mouth of the goal.
Billy Schuler beat defender Matt Weit to the free ball and slid into the goal with the ball in front of him to even things up with just over five minutes to play in regulation.
Fernando Monge tallied the only shot in the final five minutes of regulation as the teams would be forced into extra time to decide a winner.
Neither team created many chances in the first overtime period as each team managed just two shots apiece and went into a second overtime period.
The Tar Heels made a run in the 104th minute when Billy Schuler fed Ben Speas a through ball and the junior forward had a shot attempt blocked out for a corner as a UCLA defender closed down quickly to block the shot.
Senior captain Kirk Urso nearly put an impressive cap on his career in the dying seconds of the second overtime period when he unleashed a low driving shot from just inside the 18-yard box but Rowe made a tremendous diving save to his right to keep the score deadlocked at 2-2 and send the match into penalties.
The rest was history as the Tar Heels won their fourth conseucitve penalty shootout. It was also the fourth consecutiveshootout that goalkeeper Scott Goodwin registered a save as he kept the opponent off the board at least one round in each of the last four shootout wins.
Billy Schuler found the back of the net for the 16th time this season to move into a tie for fourth place in school single season history and is the first Tar Heel since 2002 to register at least 16 goals in a season.
On Schuler’s equalizer, Enzo Martinez became the 14th player in UNC history to distribute at least 11 assists in a single season.
Sophomore forward Rob Lovejoy broke out in a big way Friday night as he finished off Speas’ cross for his seventh goal of the year but his first in the last eight matches.