KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- After a double-save in the 86th minute off shots from two shots from Syracuse forwards Ben Polk and Chris Nanco, Clemson goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell could have predicted he’d have a special night.
On the play, Polk found an open shot that was stopped by Tarbell. The rebound fell to Nanco, whose attempt was knocked away by Tarbell’s shoulder.
“That’s one you don’t even think about,” Tarbell said. “It’s just got to be instinctual to come out and stand there and make yourself big and hope it catches a piece of you, which it did. It gives you a little belief to say we’re going to be OK even if we have to go through extra time.”
Those two saves were part of an eight-save performance from Tarbell Friday night at Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas, on the way to a 4-1 penalty shootout win after a 0-0 score in regulation and two overtime periods. The Tigers earned a national championship berth, the school’s first since 1987, with the win over the Orange. It will be the fourth time Clemson has played for the national championship.
Tarbell was the Tigers’ hero in the shootout as well. He saved Orange midfielder Oyvind Alseth’s penalty kick in the shootout’s first round. Subsequently, Syracuse sent one more of its penalties wide of the goal on the way to the 4-1 score in the shootout.
“Keep it as simple as possible,” Tarbell said of his strategy going into the shootout. “Don’t think of it as penalties, just [think about] going up to make a save like every day in training. Keep your thoughts simple and positive, that’s what I try to do every time I’m in a situation like that.”
In previous meetings between these teams this season, there was also little to separate one from the other. Syracuse lost to Clemson on Oct. 17 by a 1-0 score, but Syracuse defeated Clemson 2-0 on the way to winning the ACC tournament on Nov. 11.
Syracuse coach Ian McIntyre was pleased that his team played so well and lamented the Orange’s bad luck with finishing chances and missing penalties. McIntyre, however, focused only on the positives after the match.
“It was important for us to try to disrupt the rhythm for Clemson,” McIntyre said. “I thought we did that really well, [but] Tarbell was awesome tonight. Everyone was talking about, ‘Could our young team play in this environment?’ and I think they proved that [they could|.”
“It’s always frustrating when you get chances and opportunities and it doesn’t go your way,” Nanco said, who registered five shots on the night.
The Clemson defense masked a poor offensive showing from the Tigers by fighting off 15 Syracuse shots, eight of them on target. Offensively, Clemson could only manage five total shots with three on target.
“I thought today that we got pinned back a little bit,” Clemson forward T.J. Casner said. “They had us scouted out pretty well in wide areas and places that we like to play soccer. And we’re normally at our best when we can keep the ball in the attacking half of the field.”
Clemson coach Mike Noonan echoed the words of his forward. Noonan’s team has played its last five games at home. The last time the Tigers played away from home was Oct. 30 against NC State.
“I felt that this is the first time in five [or] six weeks we’ve been on the road,” Noonan said. “We played like a road team. We weren’t assertive, we were reactive. We didn’t anticipate things, and you’ve got to give Syracuse some credit because they defended exceptionally well.”
McIntyre expressed his respect for Clemson’s approach to the game and said his team, as a fellow ACC program, will be hoping that Clemson moves on to win the national championship. The feeling was mutual with Noonan, who expressed his fondness for McIntyre.
“Ian and I go back a long way,” Noonan said. “He’s one of the coaches I respect the most in all of soccer. Any coach I’ve ever come across, he’s as good as they get.”