Clemson one win away from College Cup
It was yet another close match for the second overall seed Clemson men’s soccer team, but in the end the Tigers survived a tough match from Providence at Historic Riggs Field in Clemson. ACC Player of the Year Robbie Robinson scored the game-winning goal on a penalty kick late into overtime, lifting the Tigers to the Elite Eight Round of the NCAA Tournament.
It was the second goal of the night for the nation’s top scorer.
At the 104:08 mark in the match, Providence’s Paulo Lima took down Clemson’s Kimarni Smith inside the box, drawing a yellow card and awarding the Tigers a penalty kick.
Doing what he has all season, Robinson comfortably shot the ball past the Providence keeper for the game-winner.
“I just stepped up there and had confidence in myself,” Robinson said. “We’ve been practicing penalty kicks every day in training, so I really didn’t think much about it. I just went up and took it and I’m happy it went in.”
As they did in many games this season, it was the Tigers (18-2-1) who opened up the scoring. At the 8:46 mark in the match, after receiving a through ball from Quinn McNeil down the right wing, Robinson took a nice played touch and confidently beat the keeper to the near post for a 1-0 lead.
“I want to give a lot of credit to Providence,” Clemson head coach Mike Noonan said afterward. “They’re a strong team out of the Big East and they really gave us all we could handle tonight. Once again though I thought the better team won and I’m proud to have these guys next to me who decided the game.
“It comes down to belief in sport. A lot of times the margin is whether you believe in each other and we definitely have reason to believe in this team and each other. I think that’s the separator. All year long they’ve done what we asked them to do and that bond is only getting stronger.”
Providence (16-7) proved to be a tough challenge as the Friars were all over Clemson after conceding the goal. With a consistently strong attack throughout the first half, they capitalized with just seven seconds left in the first.
At 44:53 in the match, Tiago Mendonca made a quick move at the top right of the box, beating the Clemson defender and sending the ball past keeper George Marks.
“Just to start the half like we’re starting the game again,” Noonan said. “I think these guys would agree with me that this first half wasn’t the best of our season. The half ended with a very non-intelligent soccer play that cost us the goal.
“That’s what these guys do best is move on though. That’s what we talked about at halftime and they came out and played an outstanding second half.”
The Tigers and Friars had a physical hard fought second half but overtime was needed to settle the match, although it wouldn’t be settled until the second half of overtime.
“This is why we are here, that’s why we love the game of soccer and that’s why we came to Clemson, to play in big-time games,” said senior defender Malik Mbaye. “For me coming back it’s beautiful to see the defense play like this because this is my last season and I have to enjoy it as much as i can with the guys.
“All we ask of everyone is they give their all when the go on the field. It doesn’t matter who it is, what class you are or grade you are. Just go out and get the job done.”
Clemson now waits to see who it will play in the quarterfinals next Friday at Historic Riggs Field. The Tigers are one win away from return to the College Cup for the first time since 2015.
—Photo courtesy of Clemson Athletic Communications