DePaul Comes Up With a Magnificent Effort in Loss to No. 5 Louisville
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - To come so close, yet come away empty-handed still left so many possibilities for this DePaul men's soccer program.
Andre Gutierrez, Joe Ferrari and all the rest might just have taken DePaul to the next level Saturday night after an incredible performance in a BIG EAST Championship quarterfinal before more than 2,000 nervous fans at Cardinal Park.
That the Blue Demons lost 3-2 on penalty kicks after tying No. 5 Louisville 1-1 in two overtimes is a result for the record book and an opportunity for Louisville to play in the semifinals against the winner of Sunday's USF-Notre Dame game.
What DePaul coach Craig Blazer and his team did in this David-vs.-Goliath scenario was neutralize the No. 2 offense in the country and put a huge scare into the Red Division champion that had crushed the Blue Demons 6-0 on Oct. 3 at Wish Field.
It seemed like nothing could sidetrack this DePaul team that was playing its fourth consecutive road game in an 11-day span.
Even when Louisville (13-2-3) seized a 1-0 lead just 14 minutes, 16 seconds into the game, the Blue Demons' steadfast belief in one another never wavered.
Instead they came up with their most magnificent performance of the year to withstand Louisville's 23-shot onslaught and its racehorse attack.
Slowly but surely, the better-conditioned and resilient Blue Demons wore down the high-powered Cardinals. And when Andre Gutierrez scored his first goal of the season at 50:25, suddenly Louisville was locked in a no-holds-barred alley fight that was supposed to be a cakewalk.
"I saw Antonio (Aguilar) dribbling into the box, and I knew there would be a rebound after his shot," Gutierrez said. "When the ball bounced off the goalie, I cut in front of the Louisville defender and kicked it in with my left foot.
"It felt like that goal gave us new life. Everyone gets along so well on this team, and we had played so well recently to get here. None of us were ready to see the season end."
In the two overtimes, it was the Louisville players who were cramping up as the Cardinals' pressing attack slowed noticeably. It came down to penalty kicks, just like on Wednesday when DePaul prevailed over Georgetown 3-1 in a shootout to win its BIG EAST playoff opener.
Louisville went two-for-two to open up the shootout while Patrick Hopkins' shot was stopped by goalkeeper Andre Boudreaux. Mark Plotkin's shot into the net made it 2-1. DePaul goalie Joe Ferrari followed with a crucial save.
Willy Lara's chance to tie it for DePaul was high. J.T. Murray then gave the Cardinals a 3-1 lead with his penalty-shot goal.
Steffen Vroom kept DePaul's season alive with his shot to make it 3-2. When Freddie Braun was high with his attempt, it gave DePaul (8-9-3) one last chance to extend the shootout.
It came down to the fifth and final shooter, Nathan Feltz---whose shot was stopped by Boudreaux.
"None of us would ever say it is one guy's fault we lost," Vroom said. "A lot of us had chances before that.
"Besides, Feltzie has come up big for us so many times this year. It's been an honor to know him and to be his teammate."
Vroom said the players huddled before the shootout and said that no matter the final result, everyone was so proud of what they had accomplished together.
"Maybe we don't have the pure talent of a team like Louisville or all the other highly ranked teams," Vroom said. "Guys come here who aren't highly recruited and develop into good soccer players.
"Look at Hopkins. He was a walk-on, and now he is one of the best center-backs in the whole country. Alex Mangan and I weren't highly recruited.
"But in the end, we all came together and had a team that could beat anybody in the country."
If you don't believe Vroom, ask any of the Cardinal fans who congratulated the Blue Demons as they headed to their bus and were grateful to survive the near-upset.
"We are trying to bring this program up to the next level," Blazer said. "You usually do that with a win.
"But tonight was different. We played an outstanding game and showed everybody we can play with the best teams in the country.
"We were faced with the challenge this season of playing 14 road games (only seven home matches) and met that challenge head-on. I'm grateful to (assistant) coaches Adam Tinkham and Hobie Hare, our trainer Sue Walsh and all the players for giving us everything they had.
"It was a great run, and I'm so proud of this team."
NOTES: In one of their most challenging seasons, this was the eighth time the Blue Demons have faced a nationally ranked team... it was also the fourth consecutive road game for DePaul in the span of 11 days---the most difficult endurance test DePaul coach Craig Blazer could remember in his nine years heading up the program... Louisville had come into Saturday's match with a 9-0-1 record at Cardinal Park... Louisville outshot DePaul 23-7 and had 20 corner kicks to five for the Blue Demons... Louisville had seven shots on goal to three for DePaul... Gutierrez's goal was only the third one allowed by the Cardinals in 11 home games... Ferrari came up with six big saves to keep DePaul in the game.