LOS ANGELES -- After 90 minutes of regulation, 20 minutes of overtime and eight rounds of penalty kicks, the UCLA Bruins defeated the North Carolina Tar Heels 3-3 (7-6 PKs) to advance to their 14th College Cup in school history. A diving save by senior goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr. sealed the win for the Bruins in the eighth round of penalty kicks, effectively keeping UCLA’s title hopes alive on Saturday night at Drake Stadium.
“What a fantastic night for our program, our team and our university,” UCLA head coach Jorge Salcedo said. “To see all of these students, alumni and everyone enjoy the result was a memory that will last a long time.”
The match got off to auspicious start for UCLA (13-4-5) when North Carolina’s Alex Olofson was sent off with a red card in the 20th minute. The junior midfielder was disqualified after going spikes up on a sliding tackle which took out Grady Howe. Due to the ejection, the Tar Heels had to play with just 10 men for the rest of the match.
Despite the disadvantage, North Carolina (15-5-2) got on the board first in the opening half. After Chase Gasper was assessed a yellow card for a bad tackle, Tar Heels sophomore Omar Holness stepped to the spot of the foul to take the kick. Holness drove a hard low kick from 25 yards past the wall and into the net in the bottom left corner to put North Carolina ahead by one. The score held and the Tar Heels entered the halftime break up by one on the Bruins.
The Bruins came out in the second half with a renewed energy and focus, putting numerous attempts on the Tar Heel net. In the 58th minute, Leo Stolz came inches away from equalizing for UCLA on a set piece. The MAC Hermann Trophy semifinalist bent a free-kick around the North Carolina wall and rung it straight off of the top-right corner of the post from 20 yards out. The result was a microcosm of how the game had gone for UCLA up to that point in the match.
Just when things were starting to look grim for the Bruins, Brian Iloski found the equalizer for UCLA in the 69th minute. Gasper received the ball from Abu Danladi just a few yards outside of the penalty area where he proceeded to chip a pass over the Tar Heel defense into the box. Iloski was on the end of the pass and volleyed the ball off of the right post where it trickled over the goal-line. Unsure if it was going to cross the line, Iloski made sure to put an emphasis on it by sliding in to bury the ball in the back of the net.
One minute and 40 seconds later, it was Christian Chavez finding the back of the net to give UCLA its first lead of the match. The Bruins carved up the North Carolina defense leading to Danladi holding the ball in a dangerous area, just 20 yards away from goal. Chavez patiently waited and then made a smart run in behind the defense where Danladi hit him with a soft pass. He took one touch and then slid the ball in between the goalkeeper legs and into the net to put UCLA up 2-1.
UCLA continued to attack North Carolina and got its third goal of the match in the 75th minute, putting the Bruins up by two. It was Danladi, who played a part in all three goals, who scored the third goal for UCLA. The play began after the Tar Heels had sent extra attackers forward for a throw-in. Michael Amick blocked a shot from North Carolina and the ricochet went to Felix Vobejda who directed a clearance toward midfield. With just one man in his way, Danladi attacked the ball and beat the center back to it, volleying it past him near the midfield stripe. With nothing but green grass ahead of him, Danladi carried the ball from midfield dribbled it around the goal keeper and finished into the empty goal for his fifth tally of the season.
Up by two, the Bruins seemed to be in the clear, but the resilient Tar Heels battled back. In the 78th minute, Tyler Engel brought North Carolina back within one. The senior scored into an empty net after a scramble ensued off of a corner-kick that left him alone in front. Less than 30 seconds later, leading-scorer Andy Craven got in behind the Bruin backline and ripped a hard shot past the hand of Edwards Jr. and into the top of the net to equalize the score.
The game was extended into overtime where neither team could find a goal. UCLA had the better of the opportunities in the two overtime sessions as Danladi and Andrew Tusaazemajja had great chances at goal, but neither could lift UCLA to the victory.
Regulation and overtime were not enough to solve this game, so the teams then moved to penalty kicks. UCLA sent Illoski to the spot to open the penalty kicks. He let a hard shot fly towards the right post, but Tar Heels goalkeeper Brendan Moore made an acrobatic stop to deny the Bruins of their opening attempt. North Carolina then proceeded to make all four of their attempts leading into the fifth and potentially final round. UCLA had answered back to make their next four as well, leaving the final kick of the fifth round to decide if UCLA would continue on or not.
With the game on the line, North Carolina sent Glen Long to the spot to take the kick. Long took a stutter-step approach but Edwards Jr. read him right and made the crucial game-saving stop. Both teams proceeded to make their next two attempts, leading to the eighth round. Gasper, calm and collected, sent his attempt into the net to set up the game-winning save for Edwards Jr. Warren Marshall took the shot for the Tar Heels, but the senior goalkeeper was there to make the sprawling save to advance the Bruins into the round of four.
“We congratulate North Carolina,” Salcedo said. “They were the epitome of a team with ten men throwing everything they had at us. They did a fantastic job, after being down 3-1, to make it 3-3; you applaud them for that. Ultimately, our guys found a way to win this match. To see Earl [Edwards Jr.] make the saves that he made in the penalty kick shootout was incredible.”
The penalty kick victory was the first for UCLA in NCAA tournament play since the 1990 championship game. The victory also marks the 14th time in school history that the team has reached the Final Four.
UCLA will travel to Cary, North Carolina to continue its run at a national championship. The Bruins will face Providence in the semifinals on Friday, November 12 at 7:30 p.m. ET.