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Shootout In Rome: NAC wins its first 2007 Clericus Cup match | Joseph Previtali | March 6, 2007

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This past Saturday, March 3, the Pontifical North American College (NAC) soccer team played its first match of the 2007 Clericus Cup tourney. NAC seminarian Joseph Previtali was there to cover the exciting, down-to-the-wire match.

They had come so close. Time after time, the Pontifical North American College offensive attack had created golden opportunities to break the scoreless tie in their opening match against the Pontifical Urban College. Time after time, they had missed the elusive mark, and often by just inches. Then Deacon Aaron Killips stepped up for the first NAC penalty kick of the overtime shootout that would decide the winner of this all-important first match.

"Approaching the ball I knew exactly where I wanted to put it," said the fourth-year defender from the Diocese of Savannah, GA. "Just before taking the kick I had a reporter and cameraman come up and ask me about the kick and where I wanted to go. Obviously that doesn't normally happen.

"I thought I struck the ball well and put it in the corner. Unfortunately, I hit the inside of the post and the ball came out. It was an inch off but sometimes this can be a game of inches."

Up to this point in the game, the NAC had become all too familiar with the reality that soccer is a game of inches. They had been inches away from a goal in the opening minutes when James Adams of the Diocese of Kalamazoo, MI, fired a 15-yard shot off the crossbar, sending the crystal-clear message that the NAC had come to play. They had been inches away from a goal late in the second half when Jaime Gil of the Diocese of Boise, ID, sent a free kick into the box, where Daniel O'Mullane of the Diocese of Paterson, NJ, was by himself in front of a vulnerable goal, only to have the ball glance off the bottom of his foot and just wide of the goal. They had been inches away many other times throughout the match, and they were now inches away from defeat.

"I was surprised when Killips missed his shot," said co-coach O'Mullane. "He put a good strike on the ball, but it took off on him. The missed shot added more stress to the situation for us, but I've seen too many shootouts to have had the thought that it was over with one miss."

The next Urbanianum shooter promptly buried the ball into the back of the net, and the Urban College led the shootout, 2-0. Deacon Josh Waltz stepped up and settled things down with a goal in the NAC side of the second round.

"Waltz's shot put us back in the game," said O'Mullane. "He put a great shot into the back of the net and reminded us that we could play this game too."

"The penalty kick is a lot harder to make than people may think, and lots of things are going through your mind," said Waltz. "The key to a penalty shot is to know where you're planning to shoot before you get to the ball and to set your will firmly to keep to what you have decided.

"Your mind will try to play many tricks on you, but deep down you have to convince yourself of the truth that it's an easy shot and that the goalie has no chance."

As if in answer to the NAC fans' prayers, the third Urbanianum shooter missed his shot high over the goal, putting the NAC in position to tie the shootout as Deacon Alejandro del Toro of the Diocese of Rockford stepped up. Del Toro confidently put one past the Urbanianum keeper, and the shootout stood tied at 2 with two shots remaining for both sides.

Up stepped the fourth Urbanianum shooter.

Deacon Andy Roza had played a relatively quiet game in goal for the NAC during regulation. The veteran goalkeeper had saved all four of his chances, none of which were particularly dangerous. His day was made easier by the highly effective play of the stifling NAC defense. The defensive corps, led by Killips, Waltz, and Steve Titus of the Diocese of Cheyenne, WY, kept the fleet-of-foot Urbanianum strikers away from scoring position for most of the match. Titus, in particular, made an enormous game-saving stop late in the second half.

But now, in the penalty-kick shootout, Roza was faced with a situation in which his defense could not help him.

"I try to visualize where the ball might end up and how I will get to it, but it's hard because I really don't know where the shooter will go," said Roza, describing his approach to stopping penalty kicks. "As the shooter approaches the ball, I try to see if I can get an idea as to which direction he might go, and then I go for it. In terms of preparation, I just want to feel confident and alert, and I take what's given to me from there."

With the shootout tied 2-2, the Urbanianum shooter stepped up and sent a shot low and hard to the goalkeeper's right side. The NAC goalie, having read the shooter correctly, sprang to his right and, with arms outstretched above his head, blocked the ball, sending it harmlessly away from the goal. Pandemonium ensued in the NAC cheering section and on the sideline.

"Saving a penalty kick is always a highlight for a goalkeeper," said Roza. "It was also exciting because it put us ahead. However, it wasn't exactly euphoria, because I was well aware that I still had one and maybe more shooters to face."

"Andy's save was really huge," said O'Mullane. "It put us in the position to go ahead with the next kick, and that's exactly what happened."

Indeed, Gil, the team's captain, stepped up for the NAC in the "home-half" of the fourth round of the shootout and buried one into the back of the net, putting the NAC ahead 3-2. The final Urbanianum shooter then succeeded in scoring on Roza. It was left up to the final NAC shooter--O'Mullane--to clinch the victory for the American side.

"I wasn't thinking about it too much," said O'Mullane of his pre-penalty kick preparation. "As I set our lineup for the penalty kicks, I had the thought that I might not have to shoot, and that was a comfortable idea, but I also had no intention of putting anyone else in that slot should they have to face the pressure that I had to face. It's tough to step up to the ball knowing that the game is riding on your foot, but I knew I was going to have a quality strike, and that's all you can hope for in that situation.

"I just tried to take it slow, to make sure that I was composed, and that I was in my comfort zone. All my focus was on the ball, and when the net shook I just wanted to celebrate with our guys."

The net indeed shook. The NAC soccer team ran to mob their victorious co-coach. And the crowd went wild.

It was indeed close on Saturday. But the underdog Americans had emerged victorious, earning two points (because the win came in a shootout, the Urbanianum earned one point) for the preliminary round-robin section of the Clericus Cup.

"For our first game, I think we did very well," said Killips. "I am proud of the way we played as a team and fought hard and stayed under control. It is always nice to start with a win. My hope is that we can continue to gel as a unit and to represent our college and our country well."

O'Mullane concurred.

"I'm very happy with the way our defense played today," said the first-year co-coach. "They're really working well as a unit, which is going to be a big advantage for our team moving forward.

"Coming out of this performance you'd have to say that we have a quality team. If we play our game, I think we'll match up well with other teams. All the intensity that I had hoped for was present in the way we played. We also played smart, so I'm happy to say that one of my objectives was accomplished: we played smart and hard."

O'Mullane's co-coach, Gil, who quarterbacked the NAC offensive attack from his defensive stopper position, also identified the intangible aspect as the most prominent quality of this team.

"I think we learned to trust each other more," said Gil, who consistently created offensive opportunities for the NAC side. "We need to continue to work on staying in position and remembering to play defensively. I think we did that pretty well, but it is an ongoing process. We played with the heart, and that's the best thing!"

Indeed, it will be with their intelligence, hard work, and heart that the NAC squad prepares for this Saturday's match against the Pontifical Gallic College. But after Saturday's performance, it is also undeniable that they will take on the French side with a team that is talented enough and confident enough to play with anybody.

Pontifical North American College | 2007 Clericus Cup Schedule (Preliminary Round)

March 3, 9:30AM vs. Pontificio Collegio Urbano (Field A). 0-0 (4-3)
March 10, 9:30AM vs. Pontificio Seminario Gallico (French College) (Field B)
March 17, 9:30AM vs. Croati (Field B)
March 24, 9:30AM vs. Tiberino (Field A)
April 14, 11:15AM vs. O.M.I. Team (Field B)
April 21, 9:30AM vs. P.U. Gregoriana (Gregorian University) (Field A)
April 28, 9:30AM vs. C.I. Mater Ecclesiae (Legionaries of Christ) (Field B)

Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles:

Seminarians and Soccer! Meet the Pontifical North American College Clericus Cup Team | Joseph Previtali
North American College soccer team wins| Joseph Previtali

Joseph Filice Previtali is a seminarian for the Archdiocese of San Francisco. He is in his third year of theological studies at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, where he currently resides. In June, he will receivethe Baccalaureate of Sacred Theology (S.T.B.) from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum). Previously, he was sports editor and columnist for The Gonzaga Witness, a Catholic student newspaper, which he co-founded with his friends at Gonzaga University. He will be reporting on the Clericus Cup for IgnatiusInsight.com and the Insight Scoop blog throughout the course of the tournament.

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