A Historic Run to Greensboro for North Park
The North Park University Men's Soccer team made their first trip to the NCAA National Championship game in program history. Facing seasoned veteran Messiah College, the Vikings approached their biggest challenge of the year.
The North Park offense did not wait around, as they immediately drove to their opponent's side of the field. Fatigue from the overtime minutes of yesterday's Final Four game did not slow down Shatil Khoury. Stunned by the Vikings' early attack, Khoury drew two defenders and passed the ball back to Gustav Ericsson. Ericsson sent a hard, one-touch shot towards the Messiah goal that managed to stay inside the left post and beyond the clutches of the Messiah keeper to give North Park a 1-0 lead just 1:12 into the game.
However, fatigue did not play a factor for the Falcons' offense either, as they returned fire with a cross and expertly-placed header to even the game at one goal apiece.
Gustav Ericsson saw another opportunity in the 13th minute when a long ball was sent in by the Vikings' defense. Maneuvering to an open look, Ericsson sent one just high of the net.
The fast-paced Falcons offense continued to try a breakaway strategy while the Vikings played a calm, cool and collected game of possession. A brief surge that broke through North Park's top-ranked defense threatened to put the Hawks ahead. A seemingly open door was closed immediately as Ricky Pimentel threw his left leg out in front of a Messiah shot, deflecting the ball out of harm's way.
Making a step-over move to get wide open in the middle of the offensive half, Erlend Kemkers sent a quick pass to Gustav Ericsson. Ericsson gave a blink-of-an-eye heel touch to a wide open Marrion Alvaro who responded with a skillful one touch shot to the lower left side of the goal. Unfortunately, the shot was stifled by the Falcons' keeper and the score remained tied with fifteen minutes to go in the half.
With only thirty seconds left until halftime, the Falcons reorganized for one more drive. Bret Haseltine found an open Ben Haines who settled the ball in front of the pass-expecting North Park defense. Surprising the North Park defense with a shot, Haines sent only his second shot of the season just beyond the reach of North Park's dominant keeper Mathias Stulen.
With this goal, the Vikings trailed for the first time in the match.
To start the second half, only one shot was collectively traded between the two teams in the first nine minutes of play. Stellar defense by both championship teams prevented any open looks within shooting range as the Viking and Falcon defenses held strong.
However, in a change of pace Messiah's Nick West found an open look that bounced off the right post and cleared by the Vikings' defense. North Park nearly dodged a two-goal deficit yet again on an identical setup that missed wide off the foot of Messiah's Colby Thomas.
The Vikings needed an opportunity to steal the wind from the Falcons' sails. To have an offensive push, the Vikings switched to having only three defenders back. Yet, this only resulted in one shot coming off the foot of Henrik Roesholt in the 72nd minute that missed several feet high.
Roesholt let loose another hard-earned shot in the 82nd minute of play that missed narrowly squeaked inside the left post. Albeit late, this was the momentum shift the Vikings wanted. The game was finally being played more on the North Park side of the field, and the offense was scratching and clawing for every shot it could muscle.
Unfortunately, the North Park University Men's Soccer team did not breakdown the Messiah defense. After one of the most historic runs in North Park University athletics, our men's soccer team finished runner-up in the NCAA National Championship game.
The Vikings finished their season with a record of 20-2-2 and gave powerhouse Messiah College a stunning run for their money. Their decorated season included a CCIW Championship, CCIW Tournament Championship, victories all the way to the NCAA Championship game, seven All-CCIW picks (including Newcomer and Player of the Year), four All-Region picks, a First Team All American selection, and a plethora of awards for Head Coach John Born: Regional Coach of the Year and CCIW Coach of the Year. Topping all this off, three Vikings were selected to the NCAA Final Four All Tournament team: Ricky Pimentel, Gustav Ericsson, and Mathias Stulen.
With so many impactful players returning next year, it is hard to not fantasize about Greensboro, North Carolina for the 2018 season.
This is not the end.