WEST HARTFORD, Conn. - Sophomore Alex Brannan (Oneonta, N.Y.) of the Norwich University men's soccer team scored as time expired off a free kick from 30-yards out to lift the visiting Cadets to a 3-2 victory over the University of Saint Joseph (USJ) on Saturday afternoon in a good, old-fashioned Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) slugfest on the USJ Soccer Field. With the setback, the Blue Jays slip to 7-3-0 overall and 3-1-0 in the GNAC, while the Cadets improve to 8-2-1 and 3-1-1.
With the match knotted at 2-2 and time ticking off the clock in regulation, the Cadets made one final push down the field looking to pull off the improbable. A long pass forward found a Cadet in a one-on-one situation with a USJ defender and the Blue Jays committed a foul about 30-yards from goal, stopping the clock with two seconds remaining. Brannan stepped up to take the free kick and fired an absolute rocket into the top right corner of the net as time expired to provide the Cadets with the walk-off victory.
In a highly-touted matchup featuring two of the top men's soccer teams in the conference heading into the day, it lived up to all the expectations and provided fans with excitement throughout. Despite neither team scoring in the opening 45 minutes of action, there were multiple chances by each squad in the first stanza, and you could feel that there would be fireworks to come in the second period.
The Cadets came roaring out of the break and netted a pair of goals in a 1:38 span to start the second half to jump out in front, 2-0. A long through ball by Norwich from midfield into USJ's left defensive corner drew out USJ freshman goalkeeper John Griffin (Southington, Conn.), but he was unable to beat the Cadets' forward to the ball. With Griffin scrambling to get back into position, freshman Joseph Thongsythavong (Salem, Mass.) laid a pass into the top corner of the 18-yard box to a charging Josue Lopez. Lopez took a touch and fired a low shot toward the far post to beat Griffin and get the Cadets on the board 43 seconds into the period.
Less than a minute later the Cadets would strike again. Senior Dashiell Vermilya (Montpelier, Vt.) grabbed a loose ball and drove into USJ's left defensive corner once again. He stopped, collected, and chipped a cross toward the penalty spot where he would find the head of Hunter Lortie (Manchester, N.H.) whose diving header would beat Griffin to push the visitors lead to 2-0.
The Blue Jays would not fold despite the two quick goals to start the half and answered back in the 64th minute. Freshman Michael Torres (Hartford, Conn.) had the ball on the left wing, centered a pass to classmate Charles Mputu (Hartford, Conn.), and recieved a chip pass right back over the top and inside the penalty area with just the keeper to beat. On the half-volley, he was able to get his shot over the keeper, but it caromed off the crossbar. However, Mputu followed his pass and his hustle paid off as he was able to clean up the rebound as he dove at the ball and headed it into the back of the net to trim the deficit to 2-1.
USJ would then tie the match 3:30 seconds later. On a counter-attack, sophomore DeAnte Anderson (Bloomfield, Conn.) flung a long pass from midfield into Norwich's left defensive corner, letting the speedy Mergim Kutllovci (Thomaston, Conn.) track it down. Kutllovci won the battle with the Cadets' defender and carried the ball into the penalty area where he would eventually be taken down, awarding the Blue Jays with a penalty kick. Anderson stepped up to take the PK and delivered a perfect shot into bottom right corner as Norwich's freshman keeper Robert Wagenseller (Poway, Calif.) guessed wrong, knotting the match 2-2 at the 66:45 mark.
That would setup for the dramatic finish as all signs were pointing toward overtime as the clock began to tick down. However, Brannan had other ideas as his game-winning strike with two seconds left in regulation delivered the heartbreaking blow to the Blue Jays.
Wagenseller made one save and picked up the win between the pipes for the Cadets to improve to 8-2-1 on the season, while Griffin was dealt the loss to fall to 4-2-0 on the year. He finished with four saves.
Norwich held a slight edge in shots, 12-10, and shots on goal, 7-3. The Cadets also held a slight advantage in corner kicks, 3-2.
The USJ men's soccer team returns back to the pitch on Wednesday versus Anna Maria in another GNAC matchup. Kick-off between the Blue Jays and AMCATS is slated for 4:00 p.m. on the USJ Soccer Field.