Marshall men’s soccer, back-to-back C-USA champs

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Photo Courtesy of HerdZone

Senior Jamil Roberts and junior Vinicius Fernandes (front) celebrates with the rest of his teammates after winning the 2020 Conference USA championship.

In front of a sellout crowd at Hoops Family Field, the No. 9 Marshall men’s soccer team defeated No. 12 Charlotte Sunday, capturing the 2020 Conference USA title and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

Going into the contest, Marshall had to win in order to secure the C-USA championship while Charlotte only needed a tie.

Playing to Charlotte’s favor, the game was scoreless in the first half, as both team’s defenses thwarted goal opportunities.

The theme continued through the early part of the second half, but in the 63rd minute, disaster struck the 49ers when a handball was called in the box, setting up a penalty kick for junior right back Jan-Erik Leinhos.

Leinhos sent the ball to the left post; Charlotte goalkeeper Austin Mullins guessed wrong; and the ball ricocheted off the left post and into the net.

Marshall had the 1-0 advantage but would have to stave off the Charlotte pressure. But in less than five minutes of game time, senior midfielder Pedro Dolabella launched a shot from just outside the box that snuck above the goalkeeper’s hands, bounced off the inside of the crossbar and found its way into the goal.

“I couldn’t get him to shoot all his career,” head coach Chris Grassie said in reference to Dolabella. “His whole career, he wouldn’t shoot, so I’ve been working with him to shoot outside the box, and now he’s got one in.”

An eruption from Dolabella, his teammates and the crowd ensued, as the Herd went up 2-0 and victory seemed imminent.

Dolabella said that the feeling of scoring the goal in front of a home crowd added a different level of emotion.

“Few people have the chance to play a final at home during their college career,” Dolabella said. “It’s usually on neutral ground, so today we couldn’t let this feeling go away.”

Over the next 20 minutes of game time, the Marshall defense maintained its stranglehold on the Charlotte offense. Herd goalie Oliver Semmle was a huge part of that defensive dominance, grabbing three of his four saves in the last 10 minutes of the game.

As soon as the clock showed all zeros, the Marshall bench flooded the field, and the victory celebration commenced, capped off by Dolabella lifting the trophy.

For Dolabella, knocking off Charlotte for the championship came with added motivation.

“I tried to go to their school,” Dolabella said, “and their coach told me I wasn’t good enough to play for them. Every time I play against them, I have that extra motivation, and I told the guys, ‘When you come onto the field today, think about to noes.”

The Herd will need to stay motivated as it heads into the NCAA tournament. Announced Monday, Marshall will matchup with Fordham in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The game, taking place in is scheduled for Sunday, May 2 at 1 p.m. in Wilson, North Carolina.

‘Now as we go into this NCAA tournament, we’re trying to win it,” Grassie said. “We’re not just happy to take part; we’re trying to win it.”

Grant Goodrich can be contacted at [email protected]