Vikings again denied in NAIA final

Monday, December 3, 2018

IRVINE, Calif. -- Two schools a mere 40 miles apart traveled 1,700 miles to battle for the championship of the NAIA Men's Soccer National Tournament, Missouri Valley College coming up excruciatingly short for the second year in a row.

After dropping a 1-0 decision to Wayland Baptist (Texas) in double overtime a year ago, the Vikings again pushed the championship match into extra time. And beyond, this time seeing a 2-2 draw turned into a loss on penalty kicks, Heart of America regular season champion Central Methodist enjoying a 4-3 edge in the shoot-out Saturday for its first national title.

"We had good chances we didn't take advantage of," noted MVC head coach Vladimir Simic, whose team out-shot the Eagles, 16-8 overall and 10-5 within the frame. "In the end, penalties are a lottery."

Valley had proven to be a giant killer during the late rounds, having knocked off the top-ranked Rio Grande (Ohio) in Wednesday's quarterfinal round and beating undefeated No. 1 seed William Carey (Miss.), 2-1, on sophomore Gianmarco Donnini's header off of a free kick by sophomore Luka Gluscevic with 11 minutes remaining in the semifinals Friday.

Donnini got the Vikings on the board 19 minutes into the final against the Eagles, heading in a Gluescevic corner kick from six yards out. Central Methodist tied in with five minutes left in the first half, a corner by freshman Marcos German headed in by sophomore Rodrigo Paredes.

The Eagles, who lost 2-1 to Valley in the HAAC Tournament final three weeks earlier on their home pitch, took the lead when German stole a clearing kick and booted the ball in from 15 yards out 62 seconds into the second half.

Junior Vince Gelei denied a potential game-tying attack by sophomore Vernon Newton in the 67th minute, but Gluscevic's free kick three minutes later found the foot of freshman Ruben Jiminez, who knocked it in from eight yards away for the equalizer.

German blocked a potential go-ahead goal for freshman Alessandro Macchioni, Gluscevic missed wide, senior James Mclaren had one kick bounce off a defender and another that was off-target, and Gelei saved attempts by Jiminez and junior Pedro Garcia -- all in the final 10 minutes of regulation time.

Gelei again frustrated Newton in the first overtime period and Garcia in the second extra frame. Senior Patrick Irankunda kept the Vikings alive by stopping Paredes' shot in the second OT and Gelei rejected a Macchioni shot to force penalty kicks.

Valley went first and Mclaren connected. Junior Andrea DeSimone made the first shot for Methodist, which took the advantage when junior Xavier Gladiator was stopped by Gelei. The Eagles made their next two attempts, by Paredes and senior Adrian Gutierrez. Gluscevic hit his shot, but after a Methodist fail, senior Miguel Fernandez couldn't make his try.

The Eagles (18-4-3) ended the contest when freshman Alberto Pangrazzi converted the team's fifth attempt.

It was another bitter disappointment for Valley (18-4-3), but the season itself was successful as it reached the playoffs for the sixth time in the last seven years -- five times making it to the national tournament site.

Contact Chris Allen at callen@marshallnews.com

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