Horton’s clutch goal puts Louisville in final

Austin Berry scored Louisville's first goal on Friday night.

Aaron Horton has become Louisville soccer’s Mr. Clutch.

The freshman reserve forward scored off an assist from Ryan Smith with 51 seconds left in regulation to give top-ranked Louisville a 2-1 national semifinal victory over No. 4 North Carolina that puts the Cardinals in their first NCAA College Cup championship game.

Last weekend in the snow at Louisville, Horton dribbled through several UCLA defenders and scored the game-winner in the waning seconds of regulation to send the Cardinals (20-0-3) to their first College Cup.

Playing in 60-degree weather at UCSB’s Harder Stadium on a Friday night, Horton ran onto a through pass from Ryan Smith and beat North Carolina goalkeeper Scott Goodwin at the near post.

Smith started the winning play by intercepting Dustin McCarty’s slow crossing ball in the midfield, taking it up field and releasing a pass into space on the left. Horton hustled up the left wing, took a couple of dribbles and chipped a left-footed shot over Goodwin from about seven yards.

“Basically Ron was the one who made the play happen,” Horton said. “He got the ball and started dribbling and took it out wide and slipped it through and I was able to put it away.”

He added, “I knew if the opportunity came, we were going to put it away because that’s what we’ve doing all season,” Horton said. “The opportunity came and it was the same result as usual — put it away and we’re in the national championship.”

“We’re gong to continue to wait until the last minute to throw him in,” quipped Louisville coach Ken Lolla about Horton’s recent late-game heroics.

“He took the chances well, but it’s a product of what we’re doing all game long,” Lolla said. “I think we wore on them. One of the strengths we have is depth. Colin (Rolfe) is a special player and the combination of Colin and Aaron up top forces teams to have to pay attention and defend for 90 minutes.

“(Aaron) comes in a little bit fresh and with energy, and took his chances in both games very, very well.”

Charlie Campbell of Louisville and Dustin McCarthy of North Carolina battle for control of the ball.

Josh Rose controls the ball for North Carolina.

For North Carolina, the loss ended its charmed life in the NCAA Tournament. The Tar Heels (16-4-4), who were playing in their third straight College Cup, had won their three tournament games by penalty-kick shootouts.

“They were a formidable opponent and we knew that,” North Carolina coach Elmar Bolowich said of Louisville. “We played our hardest, but in the end they were a little more fortunate with their opportunities and came away with the win.”

Friday’s game appeared to be headed toward overtime after the Tar Heels tied the score in the 62nd minute on a goal by McCarthy. He broke away from his mark and beat Louisville goalkeeper Andre Boudreaux at the far post on header off a cross from Alex Dixon.

“The goal was one of their few good chances to score,” Boudreaux. “We have faith and the belief we could come back and get another goal.”

Louisville, which had dominated possession up to that point, broke a scoreless draw in the 58th minute after a hustle play by Rolfe. He stole the ball from a North Carolina defender and ripped a shot that deflected off a Tar Heel and out of bounds for a corner kick.

Dylan Mares delivered the corner kick to the far post and Cardinal defender Austin Berry rose over Carolina’s Jalil Anibaba and snapped a powerful header into the back of the net for a 1-0 lead.

Louisville’s strategy in the game was to apply high pressure on Carolina in the back, and it paid off as North Carolina couldn’t get its uptempo attack going for most of the game.

Louisville threatened in the 18th minute. Charlie Campbell shot to the far post and the ball was cleared away at the goal line by a sliding Drew McKinney of North Carolina. Campbell got the ball back and ripped a rising shot on goal that was punched away by goalkeeper Goodwin.

Horton came in late in the first half and almost pulled off another stellar individual effort he did against UCLA. Horton dribbled through three defenders and got in the box, but the Tar Heels were able to clear the ball away.

Louisville put together a nice sequence in the 69th minute. Nick Deleon sent the ball through to Mares, who crossed it on the ground to the far post for Smith. However, Carolina defender Matt Rose stayed with Smith and broke up the play.

The action got heated in the 70th minute with Carolina playmaker Michael Farfan was tackled from behind and teammate Eddie Ababio rushed in and pushed the Louisville tackler. Ababio and the Cardinals’ Mares were given yellow cards.

North Carolina started to generate some dangerous chances in the last seven minutes.

In the 83rd, Enzo Martinez created a chance for himself on the left side. He drove left and cut the ball back to his right foot to open up space, but his shot from 15 yards sailed high.

Dixon took on two defenders and lifted the ball that appeared to go off the arm of a Louisville player, but there was no call from the referee.

It was another tough ending for the Tar Heels at the College Cup. They’ve lost in three straight against the top-seeded team: 2008 to Maryland in the final, 2009 to Akron on penalty kicks in the semifinals and Friday.

For Louisville, its historic ride continues. The Cardinals are trying to become the first undefeated champion since Santa Clara in 1989.

“We started a little slow in the first half, played a little tentative. But we came out in the second half very aggressively and stepped up the tempo,” Lolla said. “We set up a lot of chances and were rewarded late in the game.”

Thanks to Mr. Clutch.