By Pete Scantlebury, NAIA Manager of Athletics Communications
IRVINE, Calif. -- Two teams separated by a 45-minute drive on MO-240 needed to travel to Irvine, Calif., to settle a conference rivalry.
This time, it was for a national championship.
After playing to a 0-0 draw in early October, Missouri Valley defeated Central Methodist 2-1 in the Heart of America conference finals a month later. Both teams received automatic berths to the 2018 NAIA Men’s Soccer National Championship, as the regular-season champion and the tournament champion.
This all-Heart, all-Show Me State finale was once again settled by the slimmest of margins: After a 2-2 tie through 90 minutes and two overtime periods, Central Methodist won 4-3 on penalty kicks.
For a game full of star players (six combined from both teams made the 2018 NAIA All-Tournament Team), it was a 5-foot-8 freshman from Spain that made three of the biggest plays.
Marcos German, already credited with an assist on a corner kick that knotted the game 1-1 before halftime, didn’t waste any time in the second half. He collected a deflected ball about 15 yards out from
Missouri Valley tied the game in the 70th minute after a Luka Glusevic
In the 81st minute, German – diminutive compared to 6-foot-4 CMU goalkeeper Vince Gelei – headed a Missouri Valley shot off the line to preserve the tie and send the game to overtime. His goal, assist and block eventually guided his team to the penalty kicks that decided the game.
“We always talk about at practice, the two players, whoever is at the post, they have to be ready,” Gelei said. “I think this is one of our biggest strengths of our team, we fight together, no matter what their position is.
“I was scared a bit but I trusted my players, and this is what happens. We won.”
“He did a lot of great things this tournament, and he did a lot of great things all year,” Central Methodist coach Alex Nichols said. “Most importantly, he’s a team player who knows that every one of his teammates was just as important.”
German was one of the stars of the tournament for Alex Nichols’ Eagles side, leading them to their first national championship in school history. Making their first appearance in the NAIA men’s soccer postseason, the slight freshman from Camarma de
"Winning this championship is the best I've been in my career," German said.
The first goal of the championship game came in the 19th minute. Off a corner kick by Missouri Valley midfielder Luka Gluscevic, Gianmarco Donnini headed the ball into the goal to stake the Vikings to a 1-0 lead.
It was the same duo that connected for the game-winner against top-seeded William Carey in the semifinals; Donnini, a defender, entered the postseason with two goals. He doubled that in the final two games.
From that point, Central Methodist went on the attack, pushing the pace and looking for a chance. It found that moment in the 40th minute. German curled a corner kick into the box and Rodrigo Paredes headed it home for the equalizer.
In penalty kicks, Gelei made two saves to give the Eagles the advantage. His last save was by the skin of his teeth. He got his fingertips on the shot, directing it to the post. The ball ricocheted out of bounds.
Alberto Pangrazzi then slotted his attempt into the net, sending the Eagles into a frenzy and – eventually – engraving their name as the 60th NAIA Men’s Soccer National Championship.
It was another heartbreak for Vladimir Simic’s Missouri Valley side, which lost in overtime in the 2017 NAIA Men’s Soccer National Championship.
“We had good chances that we didn’t take advantage of and in the end, penalties are a lottery,” Simic said after the game.
The trophy will be coming to Fayette, Mo., and Nichols said the impact this win was built on the support of the entire Central Methodist community.
“It’s for everybody,” Nichols said. “And at CMU, you’re a unit, and every single coach is so supportive and every single coach means a lot to all of this. Every single professor means a lot to this. It’s a tight-night school, so everything is interrelated.
“It’s special for everybody.”
2018 NAIA Men's Soccer National Championship All-Tournament Team
|Forward||Teren Schuster||Cardinal Stritch (Wis.)|
|Forward||Yuri Farkas||Madonna (Mich.)|
|Forward||Adrian Gutierrez||Central Methodist (Mo.)|
|Forward||Stefan Cvetanovic||Oklahoma Wesleyan|
|Midfielder||Liam Heywood||Cardinal Stritch (Wis.)|
|Midfielder||Rodrigo Paredes||Central Methodist (Mo.)|
|Midfielder||Michael Conejero||William Carey (Miss.)|
|Midfielder||Johnny Buckle||William Carey (Miss.)|
|Defender||Mitchell Osmond||Rio Grande (Ohio)|
|Defender||Marcos German||Central Methodist (Mo.)|
|Defender||Gianmarco Donnini||Missouri Valley|
|Defender||Noah Dalle||Missouri Valley|
|Goalkeeper||Joe Smith||Madonna (Mich.)|
|Goalkeeper||Patrick Irankunda||Missouri Valley|
|Most Outstanding Offensive||Teren Schuster||Cardinal Stritch (Wis.)|
|Most Outstanding Defensive||Marcos German||Central Methodist (Mo.)|
|Most Valuable||Rodrigo Paredes||Central Methodist (Mo.)|