Men's Soccer Advances to Sweet 16 on PKs

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Football, cross country Men’s basketball


Senior co-captain Bryan Attanasio, a two-time All-Centennial Conference right back, has yet to score a goal while playing for the Muhlenberg men’s soccer team. But he has put a ball into the back of the net, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

Attanasio delivered the third of five consecutive successful penalty kicks for the Mules in a shootout against Catholic in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. After the teams played to a scoreless draw, Muhlenberg won the shootout, 5-3, to advance to the “Sweet 16” for the fourth time in program history.

Bryan Attanasio The Mules (15-1-3) will play Tufts in the Round of 16 in a sectional that also includes Messiah and Cortland State. The site for the sectional will be announced on Monday.

“I’ve never really backed away from pressure situations,” said Attanasio (left). “We practiced penalty kicks all year. It’s all about your mentality. Going in I felt very confident.”

The penalty kicks came after a tightly contested 110 minutes of soccer produced no goals. The teams combined for only 15 shots (just four on goal). Muhlenberg missed some chances in the early going and was stymied by the Catholic defense for most of the second half and overtimes.

The Cardinals (10-5-6) came the closest to scoring off a corner kick late in the first half. A header targeted for the far post would have gone in, but sophomore Patrick Bell headed it off the line.

Catholic took the only two shots of overtime, neither of them dangerous, and the teams went to the shootout.

“You gotta tip your hat to Catholic,” said Attanasio. “They played a good game. We kept grinding it out. As long as that final whistle hasn’t blown, I’m proud to say as Mule players we don’t quit.”

The shootout was the first for Muhlenberg since 2006, whereas Catholic got into the NCAA Tournament by winning both of its Landmark Conference playoff matches on penalties. While many dread games decided by penalty kicks, the Mules knew what they had to do.

Travis Wantchekon “After a hard-fought game like that, you don’t want to send somebody home on penalty kicks,” said Attanasio. “But it doesn’t matter what you want. Somebody had to advance.

“We weren’t playing for penalty kicks, I can tell you that. So it was what it was. Coach Topping told us who the five shooters were, and everyone was confident in their abilities and confident in each other to get the job done.”

Senior Lance Dotzman, who converted a penalty kick in the first-round win against Baruch, began the shootout with a make. Catholic’s first attempt went wide left, and that proved to be the difference as Muhlenberg never wavered.

Senior Travis Wantchekon (right) buried his kick, followed by Attanasio and another Mule who has no career goals, junior Chris Russomano. With the score 4-3, senior Joey Roberts stepped to the spot with a chance to win it and stuck his try inside the left post to set off a celebration.

The shootout win was the first for the Mules since one against Gordon in the first round of the 2003 NCAA Tournament. In a season of “survive and advance,” Muhlenberg extended its season and the careers of its seniors by at least one more game.

“Now that I’m finally in it, I get why they call it the Sweet 16,” said Attanasio. “I’m really excited and I can’t wait to get back to work.”
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