Written By: Owen Boyle
Photo Courtesy of: AAC Men’s Soccer
The Owls’ quest for their first-ever AAC championship ended in the semifinals as they fell on penalty kicks to Tulsa.
Bad penalty kicks and a lackluster offense cost the Owls a chance at playing in the final on Saturday.
The Owls came into the match riding a three-game winning streak with their most recent victory coming in overtime against SMU.
This was the first time Temple and Tulsa met in the AAC Tournament. The cherry and white went undefeated against the Golden Hurricane during the regular season. The two teams battled out a scoreless draw in Oklahoma and the Owls won 4-1 on senior night in what was their final home game.
This was the 9th time these two AAC foes have played each other. The Owls hold a 3-2-3 all-time record against Tulsa.
Armante’ Marshall was the acting manager for the match after head coach Brian Rowland was suspended due to a red card in the Owls’ final match of the regular season.
“Armante’ was outstanding,” said defender Esteban Suarez. “Being a leader is part of his nature and he is a person that we trust when things get complicated.”
Ben Barkley created the first opportunity of the game for either side. His curling effort beat the outstretched Eoin Gawronski but the shot went wide of the post.
Alex Meinhard found himself behind the Temple defense, but his low shot was saved by Gawronski. Meinhard was just awarded the AAC player of the year and AAC rookie of the year.
“He’s a very talented player,” said coach Brian Rowland. “He is the guy that scores their goals and the play goes through him. We were confident in our backline and the matchup was good for us.”
An injury scare to Pierre Cayet had the Owls holding their breath. Cayet collided with players on a corner kick and hit the ground hard.
Cayet would take his time to recover and eventually returned to the match. The AAC defensive player of the year made numerous defensive stops to halt a potent Golden Hurricane offense.
An uneventful first half finished scoreless with the Owls recording zero total shots.
“I wasn’t particularly happy with how we started,” said acting head coach Armante’ Marshall. “I don’t think we did a good enough job in the first half.”
Tulsa would find the breakthrough shortly after the start of the second half. Alvaro Torrijos fired in a shot from the top of the box off of a corner kick. Gawronski got a fingertip to the shot but was unable to keep it out.
With just 20 minutes left, Tulsa almost extended their lead. Chase Bromstedt hit the post with a left-footed effort.
The Owls finally got their first shot on goal and it found the back of the net. Jalen Campbell flicked home a Mickael Borger cross in the penalty box to equalize for Temple.
This was Campbell’s fourth goal this season and second-career AAC tournament goal.
The momentum swung the way of the Owls. Just moments later Brady O’Connor curled a left-footed shot into the arms of Lucas Cline.
“I thought the group was more connected in the second half,” said Marshall. “The intensity and urgency of taking the game to them is really what allowed us to get back in the game.”
No team was able to find a late winner which sent this game to overtime.
The best chance of the first overtime period came off the foot of Jalen Campbell. The Canadian was fed through on goal but a bad first touch allowed a defender to block his shot.
Eoin Gawronski was called into action with just two minutes left in the first overtime. He was forced to make a save at his near post on a shot from Malik Henry-Scott.
Off the ensuing corner, Tulsa almost got their golden goal. Mariano Fazio’s leaping header hit the left post and stayed out.
In the second overtime, the Owls were inches away from advancing to the finals. Fabian Grant’s freekick from outside the box was tipped over the crossbar by a sprawling Lucas Cline.
Mike Eijgendaal had a late opportunity as he headed Esteban Suarez’s cross over the bar.
The match ended in a 1-1 draw and would be decided on penalty kicks.
This was the first time in program history that a conference tournament match would be decided by penalty kicks.
In the first round of kicks, Pierre Cayet had his penalty saved by Cline and Henry Sach scored his to give Tulsa the 1-0 advantage.
In round two, Amir Cohen hit his shot off the underside of the crossbar and Chase Bromstedt slotted his penalty past Gawronski to give Tulsa a 2-0 advantage.
In round three, Brady O’Connor had his penalty saved by Cline and Ben Barkley missed the net entirely.
In round four, Fabian Grant rolled his penalty into the net but Alex Meinhard buried his penalty to send Tulsa into the AAC Men’s Soccer Championship game.
While the match ended in a 1-1 tie, Tulsa advanced through penalties by a score of 3-1.
“It’s a crapshoot,” said Rowland. “As much as you train for penalties, it’s anyone’s game at that point.”
Both teams finished the night with three shots on target. The Owls first shot on frame came on Jalen Campbell’s goal in the 74th minute.
The goalies each made two saves but Lucas Cline added two more in the penalty shootout to propel his side to victory.
The Owls finish the season with a 5-4-1 regular-season record and an 0-1 tournament record. Temple has yet to feature in an AAC Championship game since they joined the conference.
“We are obviously disappointed,” said Rowland. “We competed well and created some good chances. We weren’t at our best but I think we were the better team through the 110 minutes of play.”
The cherry and white are still on the bubble for the NCAA Men’s Soccer Tournament. The AAC is historically a three-bid conference which will give the Owls a slim hope of continuing their season.
“At this point, we just have to have faith,” said Suarez. “It’s a shame that our destiny lies in other hands, but at least we have a chance.”
Tulsa will stay in Florida to play the winner of UCF/SMU on Saturday while the Owls will be forced to wait for an official announcement on Monday determining if they will make the NCAA Tournament.