When the AU Men’s Soccer team came from a goal down to defeat Georgetown 2-1 on Monday afternoon and clinch the D.C. College Cup at Reeves Field, one thing became clear - this is not last year’s team.
That team went 7-9-1 and never had a come-from-behind victory. This team (2-1-0), having lost or dismissed a total of 10 players since last season, threw that monkey off its back with a game winning goal in the sixth minute of overtime.
“I’m very proud of them,” said AU head coach Todd West. “We did a little surgery on the team during the off season. Now there’s a little more heart.”
Sophomore midfielder Salvatore Caccavale scored the 96th minute winner on a 25-yard free kick that curled around the Hoyas’ human wall, inside the right post, and past lunging Hoya ‘keeper Andrew Keszler.
Senior midfielder Shawn Kuykendall drew the free kick when a Hoya defender tripped him while dashing toward goal.
After the foul, both Kuykendall and Caccavale stood over the ball. Then Kuykendall - who takes most of the Eagles’ set pieces - ran over the ball, faking a shot to the left post. With Georgetown’s wall and ‘keeper off balance, Caccavale then blasted the ball in the other direction.
“I figured the wall was set left, and that the ‘keeper would step to his right,” Caccavale said, “So if I put it to my right, he wouldn’t get to it. And that’s exactly what happened.”
“I took two terrible free kicks before that one,” Kuykendall said. “So I said, ‘Let me fake this, they’ll think I’m going to the near post.’”
With that bit of deception, AU claimed its third title in the four-year history of the tournament. The Eagles also revenged last year’s disappointment, when they beat George Washington and tied Georgetown, but lost the trophy to the Hoyas on goal-differential.
AU would’ve won this year’s title with a draw, since the Eagles dispatched Howard 2-0 on Saturday, while Georgetown defeated George Washington 1-0. Still, the win reinforced AU’s dominance in the District.
“No one’s beaten us [in a game] in the D.C. College Cup,” West said. “And we’re trying to keep it that way.”
For a while, it seemed Georgetown would end AU’s unbeaten run, when after a droll first 30 minutes, the Hoyas pounced on some sloppy AU defending.
The Eagles were clearing their defensive third after senior goalkeeper Thomas Myers punched a high ball away from the goal area. But AU’s defense gifted the ball to the Hoyas, who found midfielder Daniel Grasso unmarked 18 yards from goal. Grasso coolly finished to Myers’ right to give Georgetown the 1-0 advantage.
Georgetown rode that lead into halftime, but a refocused AU side soon snatched a goal back through an unlikely hero - sophomore defender Nigel White.
White nodded home the equalizer - his first career goal - in the 51st minute, after darting onto the end of a right-sided Kuykendall corner. With Hoya defenders focusing on AU’s more conventional targets, White found himself in the clear, and easily able to head home the low, driven inswinger from eight yards.
“It’s very important to know that someone can help us out, especially someone from the back,” Kuykendall said of White’s goal. After it, “I thought we had the momentum, I was pretty confident. You’ve got to believe you are going to come back.”
The pace livened after that, with AU generating the majority, but not all, of the chances.
In the 71st and 72nd minutes respectively, Myers and Keszler traded game-saving stops. First, Myers kicked his legs out to stop a close range one-on-none effort from Grasso. Some seconds later, Caccavale chested down a long ball for senior forward David Marut, only for his effort to be thwarted by a sprawling stop from Keszler.
In the 89th minute, Caccavale pounded a 20-yard volley at goal after a poor Georgetown clearance, only for it to hit the cross bar. After that, West shouted at Caccavale to find a game-winner for his team. He hollered something similar to Kuykendall only a few minutes prior.
“They’re my guys,” West said. “Shawn and Sal have the ability to score and the ability to play the ball to others in a position to score. We need them around the ball.”
On this day, they both were.
Two days before, Kuykendall was the finisher, not the set-up man.
On Saturday, AU enjoyed a 2-0 victory over the visiting Howard Bison’s in their first match of the D.C. College Cup. Led by senior Shawn Kuykendall, who scored the game’s only goals, the Eagles controlled the game from start to finish.
The score could have been more lopsided had AU capitalized on more of its numerous opportunities. The Eagles out-shot 20 to 2, but were denied time and again by the exceptional play of Bison goalkeeper Jason Williams.
AU controlled play from the opening kickoff, but received an early scare when senior goalkeeper Thomas Myers came off his line to make a remarkable kick save to stop a one-on-one breakaway. AU answered with a breakaway of its own, but Marut’s chance bounced off the goal post and was cleared away by a Howard defender.
The Eagles offense kept pressing until they were finally rewarded with Kuykendall’s goal in the 33rd minute. He used a smooth dribble move to weave past the left side of the Howard defense, and then calmly pushed his shot past the helpless keeper.
AU continued to pressure the overmatched Howard team, but didn’t seal the game until Kuykendall’s second goal in the 65th minute. This time he took a nice pass from fellow senior forward Sean Albright and placed his left-footed shot into the bottom right corner of the net.
After the game Kuykendall was excited about his performance, but was even more excited about the team’s overall play.
“Everyone is willing to put it all on the line this year,” he explained. “We’re more focused on team goals as opposed to individual accolades.”
The Eagles finished strong, but neither team played with much urgency late in the game. Coach West wasn’t worried about Howard’s play, but was disappointed with AU’s complacency.
“It’s about us. We need to move the ball quickly and not play casually,” he said. “I told the guys not to take the foot off the pedal until we put three in the net, but they did it at two.”
One early season tournament down, AU will fly to the West Coast this weekend for a second, this one hosted by Cal State Northridge. On Friday, the Eagles play Northridge, before matching up Sunday against Loyola Marymount. Then its back home for an intra-city clash against George Washington, the one D.C. College Cup team the Eagles didn’t play in the tournament.
“The big thing for our team is that everyone knows how hard we worked this weekend,” Caccavale said. “We just have to go out and do it again in California.”