Say this for Clemson – the Tigers make every minute count in soccer.
Paul Clowes forced overtime with a tying goal with three seconds left in regulation, and Ara Amirkhanian knocked in the golden goal with 5 minutes, 17 seconds remaining in the second overtime, lifting Clemson to the ACC men’s soccer championship with a 2-1 victory over Louisville on Sunday at WakeMed Soccer Park.
It was the third consecutive game in the tournament where the fourth-seeded Tigers (11-6-3) played extra time. They had to go to penalty kicks to get past Wake Forest in the quarterfinals and top-seeded Notre Dame in the semifinals.
Friday night against the Irish, Bobby Belair scored on a header with 1:59 left in regulation to send that game to overtime.
“This team is probably made up of some of the greatest character young men that I’ve been associated with as a head coach for 27 years, and that came through again today,” said fifth-year Clemson coach Mike Noonan, who guided the Tigers to their third tournament title and 14th overall in the ACC. Clemson never led in any of the three games until Amirkhanian’s game-winner.
“As a team we always believe we can win games,” said Clowes, a junior midfielder from Cheshire, England, who was voted the tournament most valuable player for his late-game heroics. “We’re determined and show it right to the end. A lot of times the goal scorer is incidental. … Today it was my turn.”
Clowes’ strike stunned the crowd of 784 as Clemson furiously moved the ball upfield while the final seconds were counted down by the PA announcer. Michael Melvin headed the ball forward to Alex Happi on the left side, and Happi crossed to Clowes, who hooked a shot from 18 yards off the left post and in for his first goal of the year.
“The issue is, they probably shouldn’t have been down there,” Louisville coach Ken Lolla said. “We had a free kick late that we should have knocked off the field where we had numbers. It allowed them to come back at us. And give them credit because they found a way to get deep and get a goal.”
It was Clowes again in the second overtime who provided the key play. His corner kick was headed by Belair at the top of the penalty area to Diego Campos at the left post. Campos’ shot was blocked, but Amirkhanian, a senior midfielder, stuck in the rebound for his second goal of year.
For most of the afternoon it looked like sixth-seeded Louisville (10-7-3) would collect an ACC championship in its first year in the league.
Junior forward Ricardo Velazco, who had a goal and an assist in the 2-1 semifinal win over Syracuse, scored on a header in the 13th minute of a physical game that saw two yellow cards on each team and 42 fouls, 22 on Louisville.
Goalkeeper Joachim Ball had four saves for the Cardinals, whose defense did not yield a shot by the Tigers in the final 35 minutes of regulation until Clowes’ heart-stopper. Andrew Tarbell had two saves for Clemson, which had a 9-5 edge in shots, including the only one in the overtimes.
“It’s a tough way to finish the ACC tournament,” said Lolla, as both teams will await Monday’s announcement to learn their NCAA tournament seeding. “I give Clemson credit for battling to the end. We should have managed the game a little bit better, and because of that it cost us.”
Clowes was joined on the all-tournament team by teammates Belair, Tarbell, Amirkhanian, Phanuel Kavita and Kyle Fisher. Louisville was represented by Ball, Velazco, Daniel Keller, Tim Kubel and Ben Strong.