Penn State men’s soccer (9-1-2) knocked off Massachusetts (7-2-3) 4-1 during NCAA Tournament second round action on Sunday afternoon in Greensboro, North Carolina .
The Nittany Lions opened the contest with an early, fortuitous break created by an own-goal at the expense of the UMass defense. After controlling possession for much of the early going, several crucial defensive stops led to breakaway opportunities, which were both finished off by Alex Stevenson and Seth Kuhn, respectively, extending the Penn State advantage to a 3-0 margin at the half.
Jeff Cook’s unit played defensively for the remainder of the match, resulting in the commanding second-round victory.
How It Happened
The fast and physical Penn State midfield began the contest by attacking the opposing backline early and often. Nearly five minutes into the matchup, Keegan Ness delivered the first viable scoring chance for the Nittany Lions after delivering a well-placed cross into the box, but forwards Danny Bloyou and Peter Mangione were unable to cleanly attack the attempt.
Throughout the opening minutes, Penn State dominated time of possession by pushing the pace up the sideline in order to clear-out the middle of the pitch. The strategy paid off for the Nittany Lions courtesy of Pierre Reedy, who delivered a powerful cross attempt deep into UMass territory, resulting in an own-goal by defender Shawn Allien. The senior tried to clear the ball in the air, but an awkward bounce off the outside of his foot catapulted Penn State to an early 1-0 lead.
In an effort to increase the lead directly after the own-goal gift, Penn State was awarded two straight corner kicks deep in the opposing zone. On the second chance, Seth Kuhn delivered a high-arcing ball right to defender Brandon Hackenberg, who nearly capitalized on a header that sailed just above the cross-bar.
After the poor start, UMass ripped off a series of breakaway opportunities created by stout defense and unselfish ball movement. Toward the midpoint of the opening half, the Minutemen nearly capitalized on a low-rolling pass directly at the goal-line of Khris Shakes’ net, but the Penn State backline was able to escape the near disaster.
A clear by the Penn State backline created an advantageous fast-break of its own on the same sequence. Mangione and Kuhn spearheaded the break, which was later finished off in impressive fashion on a perfectly-placed shot by Alex Stevenson to capture a 2-0 advantage. The sophomore’s strike resulted in his first goal of the season, and the second of the sophomore’s young career.
Seth Kuhn’s presence on the offensive end continued to shine, as the Pennsylvania native once again found himself well-positioned within the 6-yard box for another Nittany Lion goal opportunity. Later in the half, Mangione teed up a pass directly at Kuhn’s dominant right foot, resulting in a top-left corner bullet over the head of keeper Marvyn Dorchin’s head for the third goal of the half for the favorites.
Despite giving up three shots in the half’s final 10 minutes, the Nittany Lions cruised to the locker room boasting a favorable 3-0 advantage. The three-goal margin marked Jeff Cook’s group’s largest single-game lead of the season.
In almost a carbon-copy to the beginning of the match, UMass struck first early in the second half on an own-goal scored by Penn State. Defender Nicholas Rieple attempted to make a play on the ball deep in his own zone, but a lackluster strike landed past Khris Shakes for the Minutemen’s first sign of life, bringing the score to 3-1.
Penn State continued to milk the clock by playing defensively, but the stingy UMass attack wouldn’t let up. With just over 15 minutes remaining in the game, the Minutemen registered seven shots in the second-half, in comparison to zero looks on net for the conservative Nittany Lions.
The tide shifted later in the half, as Kuhn delivered yet another quality shot, the first of the half for the Nittany Lions. In the same sequence, Penn State was awarded a corner kick, but UMass cleared the cross out of the zone to end the possession.
Despite producing limited shot attempts in the second half, Penn State’s controlling approach paid off to end the match. With just over five minutes left, freshman Tyger Evans capped off the well-executed game plan by scoring the team’s fourth goal of the day on a UMass defensive mishap. The match finished in a 4-1 Penn State victory, good for the program’s first NCAA Tournament win since 2014.
Player Of The Match
Peter Mangione | Freshman | Midfielder
Despite finishing the afternoon scoreless, the budding superstar commanded the Penn State midfield by facilitating the majority of the team’s scoring attempts throughout the contest. Mangione produced three assists on three goals scored by the Nittany Lion attack, other than the initial own-goal, to lead his team to a dominate triumph propelled by selfless play and elite passing.
Penn State will face defending national champions No. 8 Georgetown in the third round of the NCAA Tournament at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina. Kickoff is set for Thursday, May 6, and the time is to be announced.