#2 UCLA fell on penalties 4-2 to #16 Virginia after a goalless final in Cary, North Carolina, giving the Cavaliers their seventh national title.
Virginia took an extremely conservative approach to the game, leaving semifinal goalscorer Darius Madison isolated up front on the few times they pushed forward.
The Cavaliers seemed content to let UCLA pass around and look for an opening, which never came in the opening 45 minutes.
The most work Virginia goalkeeper Calle Brown had to do was a half hour in when he ran off his line to smother a header from his defender Scott Thomsen with UCLA forward Christian Chavez looming.
Virginia’s approach can be epitomized with one stat: their first shot did not come until the 35th minute, when a free kick from 35 yards out was optimistically shot towards goal by Thomsen, only to go high and wide.
UCLA forwards Larry Ndjock and Abu Danladi, who combined for both regulation goals in their 3-2 overtime win over Providence, struggled to get open for the UCLA midfield and did not pose any threat to Calle Brown in goal.
The half’s only shot on goal came two minutes before the break when Virginia midfielder Todd Wharton hit a low free kick from 25 yards into the grateful grasp of goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr.
Virginia showed more ambition going forward in the early stages of the second half before reverting back to their defensive approach of the first half.
Ndjock should have put UCLA ahead in the 54th minute but missed the target with his header when the goal was gaping.
Leo Stolz, who is a finalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy, had two shots from distance in the space of ten minutes. His first, coming in the 65th minute, flashed across the face of goal while his second effort went narrowly over the top-right corner.
The teams’ frustration to find an opener boiled over with ten minutes remaining when UCLA defender Edgar Contreras and Virginia’s Madison clashed. Contreras’ head butt on Madison went unnoticed by the referee and Madison retaliated with a swipe at the defender’s face. Both players were lucky to receive yellow cards rather than marching orders.
The last chance of regulation came with three minutes remaining when UCLA defender Aaron Simmons, who had just come on as a sub, headed a corner kick narrowly wide.
The two storied programs could not be separated in regulation, so overtime beckoned.
UCLA, coming off of their overtime semifinal win on Friday night, had the best chance of the first ten minute overtime period.
Danladi had his first chance of the game five minutes into the opening period when a corner bounced in the six yard box, but his volley went straight into the grateful clutches of Calle Brown.
It was obvious Virginia was holding on for penalty kicks with midfielder Ryan Zinkhan and defender Sheldon Sullivan combining for some great tackles and clearances to prevent UCLA from scoring the golden goal.
They achieved their goal when the referee blew for full time after 110 minutes of scoreless soccer.
It marked the first time since 2009 that the National Championship game went to spot kicks since, yes, Virginia beat Akron 3-2 on penalties after a 0-0 game.
Virginia kicked first in the shootout and the two sides exchanged conversions, with Todd Wharton and Brian Iloski finding the back of the net.
The next round of penalties brought two misses- the first with Earl Edwards Jr. saving a low shot to his left; the second with Gage Zerboni nailing the crossbar.
With the score level at 1-1, Virginia got the upper-hand when Sam Hayward’s conversion was followed up by UCLA’s Willie Raygoza hitting the crossbar in similar fashion to Zerboni.
While Calle Brown did not have to make a save on the two misses, his 6’5” frame was surely an intimidation factor with the Bruins in the shootout.
Patrick Foss’ long run up ended with him slotting past Edwards Jr., while Ndjock matched his effort with a sudden death penalty.
Riggs Lennon stepped up for the Cavaliers for the decisive penalty- convert and the title was Virginia’s; miss and UCLA would have a chance to extend the game.
Lennon converted his penalty with a shot low and straight down the middle.
UCLA’s Edwards Jr. and his fellow seniors fell to their knees in tears, missing out on ending their collegiate careers on top.
Virginia, headed by injured All-American midfielder Eric Bird, celebrated Virginia’s first national title since 2009.
A college with a storied history had suffered through a mediocre season ravaged by injuries to clinch the last seed in the bracket for the National Championship.
They saved their best performances for the last few games: defeating a Notre Dame team they had lost to 3-0 only a few weeks prior; scoring a 90th minute equalizer to edge Georgetown on penalties; keeping consecutive clean sheets in the College Cup to defeat UMBC and UCLA.
Virginia’s win will live long in the memory for the program, even though it was not the prettiest of wins.
Congratulations to College Cup participants UCLA, Providence, and UMBC for successful season and to Virginia for the National Championship title against all the odds!