ACC Men’s Soccer championship: Clemson vs. Louisville

Soccer fans might want to plan for a long afternoon if they attend the championship match of the ACC men’s tournament Sunday.

When fourth-seeded Clemson (10-6-3) and sixth-seeded Louisville (10-6-3) met during the regular season, the result was a 0-0 tie after double overtime. More recently Clemson needed penalty kicks to advance past Wake Forest and Notre Dame in the quarterfinals and semifinals after tying 1-1 in regulation and overtime.

So nobody will be surprised if the championship match, scheduled for 2 p.m. at WakeMed Soccer Park, goes to a shootout.

“If we get into penalty kicks, we’ve been there before,” Clemson midfielder Bobby Belair said. “We know Chris will save at least three.”

Belair, a graduate student who began his soccer career at Brown, was referring to backup goalkeeper Chris Glodack, a redshirt junior. Although he has started six matches, Glodack has become something of a shootout specialist. Tigers coach Mike Noonan has used him in relief of starter Andrew Tarbell on penalty kicks in both of Clemson’s ACC tournament matches, to great success.

“It’s a personnel decision, but it’s also a team decision,” Noonan said Saturday after a brief practice. “I wouldn’t say Chris is better (against penalty kicks), but it keeps him involved. And people aren’t missing the frame. He’s gotten his hands on six of 12 penalty kicks. To me that’s really impressive.”

Clemson wouldn’t have made it to the shootout Friday night against top-seeded Notre Dame without Belair’s heroics, however. The graduate student, who sat out two medical hardship years as an undergrad at Brown, scored on a header off a corner kick with 1:59 remaining in regulation to forge the 1-1 tie. He also supplied one of the successful kicks in the shootout, which went seven rounds before Clemson prevailed 5-4.

Mental toughness and resilience have been traits of a Clemson team that hasn’t lost since Oct. 7, Belair said.

“It didn’t come to fruition until we started losing a few games,” he said. “We made a stance in practice to become a tougher team.”

“It’s a cliché, but it’s character,” Noonan said. “They’re a resilient group that has learned to become tougher in a lot of different ways.

“Once we got everybody back from injury, we’ve turned into a very, very good team.”

Noonan likes the team’s depth. Fourteen players have scored for the Tigers, and Austen Burnikel, who leads the team with five, didn’t even play against Notre Dame because of injury.

Louisville advanced to the championship match by beating second-seeded Syracuse 2-1, with junior forward Ricardo Velazco getting the game-winning goal and an assist Friday.

The Cardinals are seeking an ACC championship in their first year in the league, while Clemson is going after its third tournament title and first since 2001.

Louisville coach Ken Lolla, a former Duke standout in the 1980s, said a major difference from the last time these two teams played will be the energy level.

“The last time we didn’t play them on one day’s rest,” Lolla said. “When you have to play on one day’s rest, it takes its toll. The team that weathers that the best and maintains a high energy level will win the game.”