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The Orange are one win away from its first national championship after a 3-2 win over Creighton in the Men’s College Cup semifinals, and there are no prizes for guessing who helped them get there.
Syracuse put away the Bluejays on Friday night thanks to a late goal from Levonte Johnson that was assisted by Nathan Opoku, who also scored a goal of his own in the second half. Each half of the dynamic duo has now both reached double-digit goal tallies. Johnson’s winner came with just under five minutes remaining in the match, giving Creighton little time to create its third equalizer of the match.
The Bluejays created a few more chances to score in the first half than the Orange, with Duncan McGuire threatening to add to his scoring record from the opening minutes. That’s what made it such a gut punch when Syracuse scored first on a simple goalkeeping error. McGuire did get his goal after all to even the game at one and his substitute Alfie Pope scored within seconds of his introduction to tie the score at two after Opoku’s quick response.
Tempers flared in the final stages of the match shortly after Johnson’s eventual game-winner as Creighton pushed desperately for an equalizer. Syracuse players were able to keep their heads, though, and see out the victory to earn the program its first win at the College Cup. They will now wait for the winner of the Indiana-Pittsburgh to find out who will stand between them and a star above the crest.
Here’s the complete scoring summary from the semifinal:
GOAL 86′ Syracuse 3-2 Creighton: It’s the Opoku-Johnson connection again! Opoku finds space down the right side of the penalty area and played a low cross just across the face of goal that snuck past Creighton’s last defender and goalkeeper for Levonte Johnson to finish his 11th goal of the season.
GOAL 64′ Syracuse 2-2 Creighton: Now that’s a super sub! Alfie Pope was brought on for McGuire, who hurt his shoulder a few moments before, and within a couple of minutes of being on the pitch, Pope ran onto a flicked header off a throw-in to tap home Creighton’s second equalizer.
McGuire looks to be just fine, but what a momentum shift from the emergency sub.
Alfie Pope ties it up again for the Bluejays!!!!!!!@creightonmsoc– 2
(3) @CuseMSOC– 2
GOAL 51′ Syracuse 2-1 Creighton: Nathan Opoku scores for Syracuse on a slick finish past Kruse to restore the Orange’s lead just one minute after Duncan McGuire equalized for Creighton.
51′ I Well that was fast 👀@creightonmsoc – 1
(3) @CuseMSOC – 2
📺 @ESPNU #MCollegeCup pic.twitter.com/7r1KEi1GOJ
The McGuire goal set a Creighton single-season record with his 23rd score of the year. The play was almost a carbon copy of several attempts to play McGuire through in the first half. A ball over the top that McGuire was first to and he somehow managed to slot home despite being dragged by his shirt.
50′ I MCGUIRE WITH THE RESPONSE ‼️@creightonmsoc – 1
(3) @CuseMSOC – 1
📺 @ESPNU #MCollegeCup pic.twitter.com/P3sVnwOgOp
Two goals in quick succession and likely not the last of this semifinal.
The first half of this national semifinal has been quite the showcase of differing styles. Syracuse came out with the intention of putting immediate pressure on Creighton, but it turned out the Bluejays looked most dangerous to begin the game by pouncing when the Orange were vulnerable to a counterattack. Duncan McGuire had his fair share of opportunities to score, blazing one over the crossbar, a header that went just wide and a close-range shot that was cleared off the line.
Creighton even hit the crossbar from a direct free kick. Their game plan of hitting on the break looked to be working until one simple error flipped the game state on its head. Curt Calov sent in a corner kick for the Orange and was credited with the assist, but the goal was all down to a simple lapse in focus on the Creighton keeper’s part.
The Bluejays should be mostly happy with how they played in the first half. If McGuire keeps getting the chances he did in the first 45, he will get on the board. Syracuse, meanwhile, will likely put full trust in their stout defense to keep McGuire and the nation’s leading offense to a shutout.
Stats from the first half:
GOAL 37′ Syracuse 1-0 Creighton: That’s a tough goal for Creighton to concede. Syracuse took a corner kick that Bluejays goalkeeper Paul Kruse tried to claim in the air, but he seemed to never get his hands around it as it squeezed through. Orange defender Christian Curti was first to the loose ball, poking it home for the 1-0.
37′ I THE ORANGE STRIKE FIRST! @creightonmsoc– 0
(3) @CuseMSOC– 1
📺 @ESPNU#MCollegeCup x @CuseMSOC pic.twitter.com/gvr1uyngjj
The nation’s leading scorer has been active early. Creighton has been actively looking to break quickly every time it manages to take the ball off Syracuse. Whether it’s over the top straight to McGuire or out wide for someone to get him the ball, the Bluejays look dangerous on every counterattacking occasion. 20 minutes into the match, McGuire has four shots and two on target already.
When: 6 p.m. ET
Where: WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina
How to watch: ESPNU or ESPN+
The opening match of the 2022 Men’s College Cup pits two teams on season-best unbeaten runs. The third-seeded Orange have not tasted defeat in over two months, a loss to Cornell on Oct. 4 (that it avenged in the third round). That’s 12 matches in a row, nine wins, five ranked opponents, three draws and a penalty shootout. The Bluejays’ run isn’t quite as long at seven matches, but they have been perfect in that timeframe, winning all seven games in regulation, upsetting national title contenders Washington and Duke and — perhaps most impressively — all the victories have come in knockout postseason soccer, where a loss in quite literally any of those matches would have ended their season.
This will be the first-ever meeting between the programs, though they have one common opponent this season. Creighton played UConn to a 1-1 draw in September, while the Orange thrashed the Huskies 5-0 just a couple of weeks prior. However, there is really not much to draw from those results as plenty can and has changed for each team in the months since.
Creighton’s star man is a hometown product: Duncan McGuire. The striker is the nation’s leading scorer with 22 goals in 23 matches this year, tied for a program single-season record. It’s not just the Omaha, Nebraska native that Syracuse will need to be wary of, though, as the Bluejays boast the nation’s highest-scoring offense, full stop. Their total of 63 goals is good for an average of nearly three per game. This is the same team that scored three goals on a Duke defense that had allowed just eight all season — all in a single half of soccer.
Combined with the Orange’s stellar defense, which has allowed just 14 goals and recorded 11 shutouts in 23 matches this season, the battle between Creighton’s attack and Syracuse’s backline will be the one to watch. On the other side of the field, the Orange are led by the attacking duo of Levonte Johnson and Nathan Opoku. The two have combined for 19 goals and 12 assists this season and that includes their link-up for the Orange’s winner against Vermont in the quarterfinals.