Jamil Roberts delayed his professional career, hoping for a chance at a national championship with his Marshall teammates.
The senior winger got that opportunity: Marshall will face Indiana in the NCAA College Cup championship on Monday night. The Thundering Herd are vying to become the first unseeded team to win the title since Santa Clara in 2006.
Santa Clara's women are in the other College Cup final against Florida State. The games are being played at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina.
Both the men's and women's NCAA tournaments, delayed from the fall because of the coronavirus pandemic, were held entirely in North Carolina to cut down on travel and avoid the different local restrictions nationwide.
Earlier this year, Roberts was selected by Sporting Kansas City in the third round of the Major League Soccer SuperDraft.
“We all decided from a footballing standpoint that it was best for me to stay here. I made it clear to them that we had a team capable of winning a national championship," Roberts said. "They were more than happy to let me stay, get games under my belt. Ultimately, I’m going to be in a lot better shape when I join up with them post winning a national championship with Marshall University.”
Roberts scored the lone goal — on Marshall's only shot — in the team's semifinal victory over North Carolina on Friday. It was his fourth goal of the season. Goalkeeper Oliver Semmle made five saves.
Marshall (12-2-3) had eliminated top-seeded Clemson on penalties and then downed Georgetown in the quarterfinals. Roberts, who is from Langport, England, said the key is trust.
“No disrespect to the opposition that we’ve seen up to this point, but we are not looking at those jerseys and fearing them. It’s just another game," he said. "We know we’ve got the best players, and as long as we implement the game plan that has been given to us by our coaches, then we’ll have no problems. It’s all about trust, and we trust each other 100%, and as long as you execute the plan, then there’s no need to be nervous.”
The Thundering Herd will face a considerable challenge in Indiana, which is making its 16th overall trip to the championship game.
The Hoosiers (12-1-2) last won a national title in 2012. They went to the title match in 2017 but fell to Stanford in double overtime.
Overall, Indiana has won eight championships and has been to the College Cup 21 times — the most of any program in the tournament’s history.
Herbert Endeley scored in the 79th minute and Indiana advanced with a 1-0 semifinal victory over Pittsburgh on Friday night.
On the women's side, top-seeded Florida State advanced on a penalty shootout following a scoreless draw with Virginia. After freshman goalkeeper Cristina Roque denied two Virginia penalty kicks, teammates rushed her shouting “MVP!”
Florida State (13-0-2) won national titles in 2014 and 2018. The Seminoles secured a spot in the NCAA Tournament last fall, when they won the ACC Tournament title.
Santa Clara, the No. 11 seed, advanced on a 3-1 victory over second-seeded North Carolina.
Santa Clara’s Izzy D’Aquila scored in the 20th minute. It was the first goal the Tar Heels had conceded since the fall — a stretch of 694 minutes. Kelsey Turnbow and Skylar Smith also scored for the Broncos.
Santa Clara (10-0-1) is making its first trip to the tournament since 2004. The Broncos won the College Cup title in 2001 with a 1-0 victory over North Carolina.
This season was especially challenging for the Broncos because of the coronavirus restrictions in Santa Clara. They team played just seven regular-season games this spring after the Pac-12 postponed the fall season.
“The adversity that we’ve overcome and especially in Santa Clara County, is absolutely incredible. What I can say about our team is that we are resilient and we fought so hard to get to this position, and we’ve gotten better every single game during this tournament," Turnbow said. “So we’re peaking at the right time and we’re performing very well. We’re confident and we believe in one another so much, and I think that contributes to the performance on the field.”
Like Roberts at Marshall, Turnbow put off a pro career. She was the 18th overall pick in the National Women's Soccer League draft by the Chicago Red Stars.
Turnbow said when was drafted that she'll join the Red Stars in 2022 after she wraps up her master's degree.
“We know that Florida State is a great team, but we’re also very confident in the way that we’re playing. We’re very excited about the opportunity,” Turnbow said. “We are looked upon as the underdogs sometimes, but that just gives us more fire to perform and leave it all out there on the field."
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Anne M. Peterson, The Associated Press