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Exhale: Indiana escapes NCAA Tournament upset against St. Francis Brooklyn

Metaphorical sirens with red flashing lights were howling throughout Wilmington, North Carolina, Sunday evening. No, it wasn’t a firetruck. No, it wasn’t a police car. No, not even an ambulance.

For the final 12 minutes of regulation, 20 minutes of overtime, and three minutes of penalty kick’s, the proverbial upset alert blared throughout UNCW Soccer Stadium for all 250 spectators to hear.

Then, with one final sprawling save from sophomore goalkeeper Roman Celentano, the sirens retreated as IU men’s soccer escaped with a 3-1 victory in penalty kick’s over St. Francis Brooklyn.

In the sirens’ place, one giant, collective exhale befitting an early-round NCAA Tournament match that had the three-seeded Hoosiers standing on fate’s doorstep.

“Tonight was survive and advance,” IU head coach Todd Yeagley said.

Indiana junior right back Nyk Sessock attempts a pass in an NCAA Tournament second round match against St. Francis Brooklyn on May 2, 2021, in Wilmington, North Carolina. (IU athletics)

Survive. It’s a word often tossed around in tournament settings when David gives Goliath a defiant pop in the mount, and then some.

But Indiana’s second round match against St. Francis Brooklyn was no David versus Goliath showdown — that would be an understatement. Rather, it was one of college soccer’s premier programs against a team who doesn’t even have a home field to play on during the regular season.

So it should have been a breeze for the Hoosiers to get past the Terriers, right? Wrong. Very wrong.

“Give credit to Brooklyn,” Yeagley said. “I thought they were a tough team — I wouldn’t necessarily say a tough matchup — but just a tricky team the way that they played.”

There were no tricks on the part of the Terriers, though, only an aggressive, relentless approach that nearly drove the Hoosiers to their breaking point.

“I thought their team, they were really into, like, ‘we want to make a statement’ kind of mojo,” Yeagley said. “… there was just something underneath that team that I felt they squeeze everything they had out of them.”

The eye-test and final box-score confirm Yeagley’s thoughts.

15-7 shot advantage — St. Francis Brooklyn.

6-2 shots-on-goal advantage — St. Francis Brooklyn.

16-8 foul advantage — St. Francis Brooklyn.

Had it not been for Celentano’s heroic day, saving five shots in regulation and three in penalty kicks, there’s a decent chance the Terriers, not the Hoosiers, are headed to face Marquette in the third round. In fact, there’s a case to be made that St. Francis Brooklyn’s rabid attacking duo of El Mahdi Youssoufi and Nicolas Molina outplayed Indiana’s entire offense.

Youssoufi, a native of Morocco, used a combination of lightning-fast speed and finesse to wreak havoc on IU’s backline and rifle off five shots. His equalizer in the 77th minute — a through ball that gave the streaking Youssoufi a point-blank shot on net — summed up the Hoosiers’ struggles against relentless pressure.

Molina, who Yeagley referred to as a “mini Zlatan (Ibrahimovic),” was equally as pesky and a thorn in IU’s side all game. Despite several of his teammates needing medical attention late in the match due to cramping and an assortment of injuries, Molina’s motor never waned. He dispossessed IU players who were lackadaisical at times and made them pay with five shots that challenged Celentano each time.

Could it be that IU simply overlooked its counterpart?

“No, we didn’t overlook them,” Yeagley responded emphatically. “We just came up against a good team, and we were, again, just not as sharp as we have been in game’s past.”

But having one of the top goalkeeper’s in the nation comes with many perks.

One of them is bailing out your team in odd-man situations, as Celentano did time and again Sunday. The other perk, a confident swagger that radiates from the end line when the 6-foot-2 Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year stalks his prey during a do-or-die penalty kick shootout.

It’s a scenario that Celentano has already faced three times in his brief career, coming out on top all three times.

“When it got to penalties, you know, we have Roman,” Yeagley said. “So we’re in a good place.”

At least for a few more days, Indiana can cling to that “good place.”

Sure, maybe it’s OK to chalk up Sunday’s performance as simply a two-week layoff coupled with the unpredictability of St. Francis Brooklyn and the gusty weather conditions.

Going forward, however, the Hoosiers are going to need a much better showing if they want to make a run at a ninth national title.

But for now, go ahead and exhale. The sirens have shut off.

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