Soccer Team's Run Through Postseason Ends With 2-1 Loss To New Mexico

by - Correspondent -

CARY, N.C. - Given the way his team had played for the past month or so, Clemson soccer coach Trevor Adair could be excused if he expected a miracle to save his team Friday night. Unfortunately for the Tigers, midnight came early in North Carolina.

Randy Albright's header off a free kick entry from Nathan Sturgis hit the crossbar and bounced away with 19 seconds to go Friday evening, leaving Clemson one goal short in a 2-1 loss to New Mexico in the College Cup national semifinals.

The game was played at SAS Stadium in Cary, N.C. It was Clemson's first trip to the Final Four since 1987, the year it won the school's second national championship.

The Lobos (18-1-3) put their No. 1 ranking and No. 2 tournament seed on the line in Sunday's national championship game against Maryland. The Terrapins advanced in Friday's first semifinal match with a 4-1 victory over Southern Methodist University.

Clemson had pulled goal keeper Phil Marfuggi across midfield, bringing all 11 Tiger players into the offensive end for the game's final seconds. The strategy nearly paid off when Sturgis lined up for the free kick with approximately 23 seconds left.

Moving from the left side, Sturgis sent the ball toward the top of goal box where Albright - a New Mexico native - was waiting. Albright got a clean header on goal, but the ball hit the cross bar and fell just off to the right.

The Lobos cleared the ball to Clemson's end of the field, and the Tigers were unable to get another shot on goal before time ran out.

"If that shot goes in, I honestly believe we win the game," Adair said. "We had the momentum on our side at that time in the game. But it just didn't happen for us. The way this team had worked, I felt we'd get a chance."

The game proved to be as physical a 90 minutes as the Tigers (15-6-3) had played all season. Perhaps a bit too physical in Adair's eyes.

The Lobos were called for 23 total fouls (compared to just 15 for Clemson), and four different players were issued yellow cards (vs. one for the Tigers). Afterwards, Adair acknowledged that New Mexico's plan was to try and knock his team off it's game with the physical style of play.

"I don't feel like the better team won tonight," he said. "I felt we were the better team on the field. I felt like there was a lot of stuff that went on tonight that wasn't good for the game. This game is about skill, craft and speed. We didn't want to get caught up in that (physical play)."

Asked if he felt New Mexico's physical approach went too far, Adair deferred.

"I'll let you (media) be the judge of that," he said. "If you guys think they crossed the line, so be it."

New Mexico scored the only goal of the second half with 27:37 remaining in the game. Andrew Boyens' header off a pass from David Gualdarama found the net, snapping a tie that had been in place since late in the first half.

Reflecting on the goal later, Adair could only shake his head.

"The ball looked like it was going out (of play)," he said. "And we let up just a bit. That's all it takes. You let up just for a second and you see what can happen."

Clemson dominated play for much of the second half but couldn't find the answer to New Mexico's defense. Even with the advantage in time of possession, and despite the fact that his team ultimately only trailed the Lobos in total shots 8-7, Adair wasn't happy with his team's offensive performance.

"We had a lot of possessions but we didn't create a lot of chances," he said. "But that's the game. It's not who possessed the ball, it's who puts the ball in the back of the net. They had two goals. We only had one."

The teams went to the half tied 1-1 thanks to a lucky bounce and the quick feet of Dane Richards.

Trailing 1-0 with just under 6:00 left in the first half, Clemson executed a corner kick from the right of New Mexico goal keeper Mike Graczyk. The kick by Sturgis toward the goal was cleared outside the box, where Bradley Gibson launched a shot back toward the goal.

Graczyk and Clemson's Charlie Roberts simultaneously moved on the ball - Roberts attempting a header - only to see it trickle just to the right of the goal. Richards was in the right place at the right time, however, and banged home the tying goal before Graczyk could right himself.

New Mexico had taken the early 1-0 lead on a goal by Brandon Barkledge with 25:37 left in the half.

Clemson finished the game with five corner kicks to New Mexico's four. Gracyzk had one save for the Lobos, while Tigers' keeper Phil Marfuggi had two.

The two goals scored by New Mexico were the first given up by Clemson in this year's NCAA tournament.

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