Omaha, NE – The Missouri Valley Conference Championship game had the #1 and #2 seeds matched up head to head for the automatic NCAA berth. There was lots to play for and it was evident with some of the tough challenges and physical play on both sides. Creighton was playing for a top seed in the NCAA tournament that would secure them home field advantage through to the final four. The Jays entered this game a perfect 10-0 at Morrison Stadium with a 21-1 goal ratio. The Bears were co-champs in the regular season conference standings but their only way to qualify for postseason play would be to upset Creighton. But it was not to be: the Jays edged the Bears 1-0, with a nice goal created and finished by a pair of super subs in Kris Clark and Jose Ribas.
GK: #1 Brian Holt
Def: #9 Eric Miller, #21 Jace Peters, #15 Andrew Duran, #3 Tyler Polak
Holding Mids: #28 Andrew Ribeiro, #11 Greg Jordan
Attacking trio: #6 Dion Acoff, #10 Jose Gomez, #7 Bruno Castro
Fw: #16 Ethan Finley
Missouri State: 4-2-3-1
GK: #0 Trevor Spangenberg
Def: #26 Ben Griffiths, #7 James Fawke, #15 Andrew Turner, #13 David Buckenheimer
Holding Mids: #17 Danny Frid, #19 Thomas Vania
Attacking Trio: #14 Jordan Hoffman, #5 Gerard Barbero III, #8 Parker Maher
Fw: #10 Heath Melugin
The top guys were all quiet that Sunday afternoon; so it took a pair of super subs to connect in the 37th minute to net the game winning goal. Finley, Gomez, Acoff, Castro, and company didn’t perform to their normal high standard. Kris Clark and Jose Ribas had just been subbed and made the difference in 2 minutes. Clark supplied a beautiful slipped through ball that Ribas controlled off his leg and volleyed far post side netting all in one motion.
Brian Holt didn’t need to make any acrobatic saves on the day to secure the championship for the Jays. A rather quiet afternoon for Holty. Nonetheless, he was still recognized with the All Tournament MVP honors. Really more of a tribute to his 4 years under the pipes than anything else – since he made a total of 3 stops in 2 games, none of which saved the day for Creighton. Holt will need to be at his best in the NCAA playoffs to end a tremendous career on a high note.
The back row had a solid performance against the Bears. Andrew Duran came to the rescue on a pair of miscues in the back to clear out dangerous opportunities. He also corrected his aimless launching of 50 yard balls with no destination – only doing it once or twice which is something to smile about. Jace Peters was a bit shaky in decision making and distribution. That made the coaching staff nervous enough to replace him with Jake Brown midway through the second half. Tyler Polak started off with some uncharacteristic turnovers on the left, but finished strong. He showed some “latin” flavor with some fancy footwork, shake n bakes, and megs on several occasions. He is completely calm and under control under the most extreme pressure. Miller did his job well on the other side and had an error free match.
Jordan and Ribeiro didn’t have their best of games. Defensively they covered well, but both struggled to find the ball and be an outlet. The congested midfield was the cause for this, since Missouri State employs three center mids of their own. Coach Bolowich replaced both of them at different points in the second half for careless turnovers in dangerous situations – something that could prove costly against better opposition.
Bruno Castro and Jose Gomez were invisible for their standards. Gomez created very little with the exception of one or two decent penetrating balls, and a bicycle kick that came inches away from opening up the scoring. It was so close that the stadium erupted in celebration since the ball wrapped around the back side of the net. Castro was also missing in action. These two will have to step up their games for Creighton to get to the promised land. Acoff showed his “dynamite” pace on a few occasions but little else. He was cracked on the sideline by a nasty challenge in the 27th minute that should have left the Bears with 10 men. Fortunately, Acoff continued the match but was not effective.
Ethan Finley was also quiet and barely tested the keeper. He got off 4 shots, none of which required much work from Spangenberg. The good thing about Ethan is he continues to work his socks off putting defensive pressure on the opposing back line. Gomez, Castro, and Acoff match this intensity every game and it pays dividends. The impressive defensive record this season isn’t all about Holt and Duran like you read in the match reports … it’s about these front 4 playing impressive defense and not letting the opposition get to their defensive third in a comfortable situation. That is priceless, and will be the main reason I see Creighton in the Final Four.
Missouri State Breakdown:
The Bears put together an impressive MVC league run to share the regular season championship with the Jays – earning the #1 seed for the conference tournament. Heck, they upset Creighton 1-0 on October 12th. So they came into the match with the necessary swagger and confidence to compete. To Missouri State’s credit, they try to connect passes and play soccer the right way. Even against the high pressure defense Creighton employs, they kept their cool and tried to build out of the back and through the midfield.
Trevor Spangenberg looked secure throughout the contest. He was beaten on the goal by a rare quick-trigger strike from Jose Ribas. Other than that, he came off his line when needed and maintained his goals against average at just 1 goal per game for the season. Look for more from Trevor in the years to come as he is only a sophmore.
The backline kept Creighton’s star performers in check for most of the game. They fell asleep and lost concentration when the starters all went out and conceded a goal they surely wish they can take back. It cost them the MVC championship and ended their season. The center back pairing of Turner and Fawke will be around for three more season as they are both freshmen. Look for them to solidify that partnership in the spring along with their sophmore GK.
Here they had a couple of good players for the college game. The holding midfielders were aggressive and didn’t hesitate when it was time to get dirty and knock the talented Creighton mids around. Acoff got knocked out of the game by Danny Frid. Choco Gomez got a nasty lunge from Frid in the second half. He was out their competing and making sure everyone knew they were in for a battle. Hoffman showed the same nasty bite in his game. He was leaving it all on the field, and should have probably seen red on several occasions after committing stupid fouls while on a yellow card. Barbero showed he had some technical quality in him and moved the ball well. The Bears will miss his contributions moving forward.
Heath Melugin led the team in points with 15 (5g, 5a). He didn’t stand much of a chance today because of the tight marking in the Jays backline and lack of support in the offensive third by his teammates.
It was a fitting final with the #1 and #2 seeds playing for the hardware. Not many conference tournaments can boast that the top 2 seeds made it to the end this year. Creighton showed their superiority in terms of player quality. They had the necessary depth and showed it; as Kris Clark and Jose Ribas solved what the more fatigued starters could not against a stingy Missouri State defense. The 37th minute strike was Ribas’ 1st goal of the season and was the difference in deciding the conference title and automatic bid to the NCAA.
Creighton did not dominate this game the way a national championship contender should have. They looked to be in control throughout, but simply did not have the spring in their step shown in games past. It appears having played 2 games in less than 48 hours affected their legs (Creighton’s high pressing defense drains the midfielders and forwards). Not an easy thing to do for 90 minutes on back to back games. Fortunately that won’t be the case in the NCAA tournament, since they will only play once a week leading up to the final four. I like the Jays chances with home field advantage secured. However, if they reach Alabama, I’m weary of how they can perform since the Final Four games are similar format with a Friday semifinal and Sunday Championship game.
It’ll be back to the drawing board for Missouri State after having a fantastic league season. Can they make another run next year and be consistent? Was this a one and done type performance – a perfect storm if you may? They didn’t perform well early in the year and that cost them in rpi points with a shaky overall record. Not a bad season if the Jays do end up going all the way and validating the MVC as a serious conference.