CARY, N.C. – Because of Indiana's history and its place on top of the mountain in men's college soccer, it's easy to take their runs toward another national championship for granted.
But on Friday night, Pittsburgh was its equal – and then some. The two teams – seeded No. 2 (Pitt) and No 3 in the tournament and ranked No. 3 and No. 2 nationally – stood toe-to-toe and kept throwing haymakers at each other in a college soccer classic that was played at an extremely high level.
Pittsburgh had more chances, but it was Indiana the capitalized, getting a beautiful goal from Herbert Endeley in the 79th minute for a 1-0 victory and yet another trip to the College Cup title game.
And they earned it. Pitt was that good.
"The questions they ask defensively of us, it was a lot. Pitt is very, very good. the difference was our defensive principles in the key moments,'' Indiana coach Todd Yeagley said. "The adaptability and resilience of this team is phenomenal, This team has been an absolute joy to coach in a tough year. And to be here with one game remaining is really special.''
With the win, Indiana has now punched its ticket to Monday night's title game. It's the NCAA-record 16th national title match in program history and third under coach Todd Yeagley. Only one other program – Saint Louis with 13 – has played in more than nine title games.
Indiana will be looking for its ninth title on Monday, and it's first since 2012.
Pittsburgh controlled time of possession, which Indiana expected, and the Panthers also outshot Indiana 14-7 and had a 7-3 edge on corner kicks.They had several good chances, but the Hoosiers defense remained stout, and keep Roman Celentano saved them again when necessary, making several big saves to collect his 10th shutout of the season.
Indiana didn't get many chances in the first half, but they also knew opportunities would come against Pittsburgh's pressing attack.
"They're very good on their re-press and we were just a little bit off on our connections,'' Yeagley said of the first-half struggles to get good looks offensively. "As the game grew, we got a little bit better, but we always felt that because they extend themselves offensively so much, and as they pressed forward, that some things would open up for us.
"I thought we jammed spaces really well, and their best players touched the ball less tonight than they usually do. We accepted their attack, and they had chances when we had to concede some space to them. Overall, we did a really good job with our defense and our shape.''
Endeley's goal, his second of the tournament and fourth of the season, was a beauty. He got the ball in space, split two defenders and fired a rocket that found the top of the net
"Herb has worked so hard on his finishing. He's a great young man and I'm really excited for him and his team,'' Yeagley said.
Endeley, a sophomore forward from Blaine, Minn., said the same thing, that those hundreds of hours practicing on finishing paid off in a key moment.
"We've been working on a lit of finishing in practice, and I knew it could just take one shot to win the game,'' Endeley said. "I tried to split the defenders and the finishing we worked on in practice, and it added up today and helped us win the game.
"We knew Pitt was a good team and it would be a really hard game. We stuck to our principles, and that's what won the game for us today.''
It was the first time all year that Indiana was able to play in front of fans because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yeagley said it was a huge dynamic.
"This was the most enjoyable game of the year, and it wasn't because because we won and made a final,'' Yeagley said. "It was because of that, having the fans. Indiana fans are the best. When we got tired, we kept pushing and the crowd was a big part of that. It was an unbelievable experience.''
Yeagley is convinced that Celentano is the best keeper in the country, and it showed again on Friday night.
"Roman gives everyone around him confidence. We feel he is the best keeper in the game,'' Yeagley said. "He's so good that It allows your defenders to be a bit more aggressive in regards to their one-v-one moments. Roman gives you the confidence to do that, because he can make the big save. He's also great at handling balls in the air, and he did a lot of that tonight.
And now, the Hoosiers are just one win away. They'll play Marshall – a team that Yeagley says reminds him a lot of Pitt – on Monday night. (TV: ESPN2)
"This team has a lot of strength in key spots, and this is a team that knows what it needs to do,'' Yeagley said. "All of that with Roman, and a scorer like Vic (Bezerra) makes us really good, plus we're really good at team defending.
"We can keep it tight and wait for the moment. We felt like we would get those chances. Not a lot of them, but we knew they would come.''
On Friday night, one was enough.
"It was very nice,'' Endeley said of the entire night, the goal, the win, the fans. "The energy was very contagious. It's been a very long time to play in front of fans, and it really felt great to have them here.''
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