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Relive the best season in Syracuse men’s soccer history

Syracuse readies for kickoff in 2022 National Championship vs Indiana
Syracuse readies for kickoff in 2022 National Championship vs Indiana

For weeks at the start of the season, Syracuse men’s soccer head coach Ian McIntyre repeated, “The success of this team will be determined by how we perform in the midweek.” Four months removed from the first exhibition of the 2022 schedule, SU’s success was determined by a slightly more important midweek game than McIntyre likely imagined, the 2022 National Championship.

When Syracuse kicked off the regular season on Aug. 25 against Iona, the Orange were a truly unknown entity in the ACC and NCAA landscape. SU welcomed in five transfers and returned multiple starters from injury to begin 2022. The ‘Cuse began the season predicted to finish 4th in the ACC Atlantic division and did not receive a single vote for the NCAA Top-25 in preseason rankings. Late in the season, McIntyre even said, “I wouldn’t have voted for us either. We don’t play soccer for eight months though, so a lot can change.”

A lot did change for the Orange. As McIntyre is quick to tell you, “This team was close last year.” While SU finished just 8-8-2 overall a season ago, Syracuse knocked off the eventual national champions Clemson 2-0.

The Orange climbed into the national spotlight this year with a win over that same Tigers team, this time on the road. Syracuse opened the season with a 2-0 win over Iona and then a 1-0 victory over No. 21

Penn State. The performance against the Nittany Lions proved promising after SU lost at PSU 3-0 a year ago. A tough 1-1 draw at Vermont paused excitement momentarily. A dominant 5-0 trouncing at UConn and another 1-0 ranked win over No. 22 Notre Dame aided SU in jumping to 16th in the rankings.

When No. 16 Syracuse traveled to face No. 1 Clemson, it was a matchup that paired two undefeated squads. It was also a contest expected to tell whether SU was a serious contender. The Orange fell behind the Tigers less than eight minutes into the contest. In front of nearly 5,000 opposing fans, Syracuse clawed its way back to an impressive 2-1 road victory.

Following the massive road victory that bumped the ‘Cuse up to 3rd in the national rankings, SU hit its first and arguably only roadblock of the season. Syracuse fell 1-0 to Virginia thanks to an early red card and 2-1 to Cornell in the span of three games. If you know the final record for SU on the season, you know that the Orange did not lose after the defeat to the Big Red on Oct. 4.

In a massive bounce-back game, Syracuse dominated No. 4 Wake Forest 2-0 to claim control of the ACC Atlantic. A week later, the Orange firmly planted their name atop the division with a 2-1 road victory over Louisville. Despite finishing the regular season with draws against NC State and Boston College, Syracuse set a school record for most points in ACC play in a season, winning the Atlantic division outright for the first time ever.

One thing that was not heavily discussed in that synopsis of SU’s 12-2-3 regular season was the midweek games that McIntyre stressed. Those are games that can determine whether a team makes the NCAA tournament but not when that team finishes its regular season ranked 4th in the country. Syracuse’s 7-1-1 non-conference record only supplemented incredible conference performances.

Once tournament time rolls around, it is all about advancing. In the ACC tournament, the No. 2 seeded Orange did just that, surviving multiple scares. SU knocked off UNC 1-0 with a late Levonte Johnson winner. Syracuse next claimed revenge with a penalty kick shootout victory over Virginia. The ‘Cuse then advanced to their postseason home away from home, Cary, N.C. In the ACC Championship at WakeMed Soccer Park, SU jumped out to an early 2-0 first half advantage over Clemson. The Orange carried that lead all the way to the final horn to claim the school’s second ever ACC Tournament title and first since 2015.

Syracuse did not remain in the comfort of two-goal games for long. After a first-round bye thanks to the No. 3 national seed in the NCAA Tournament, SU matched up with the Ivy League champions Penn. Despite surrendering the first goal, McIntyre’s group rallied for a 2-1 overtime victory. Syracuse backed up that win by sending another Ivy League team in Cornell packing with a 1-0 win in the Round of 16. Because the Orange received a top-4 ranking, SU played its first three tournament games in front of a packed crowd at the SU Soccer Stadium. The last of those three featured another rematch where Syracuse eliminated Vermont 2-1 and advanced to its second ever College Cup.

SU headed back to Cary, N.C. with dreams of another ring and trophy to bring back to the Salt City. First, Syracuse had to work its way past a red-hot Creighton team in the semifinals. The Blue Jays had to win the Big East title to even make the NCAA Tournament and then proceeded to eliminate No. 7 Duke and No. 2 Washington en route to the College Cup. The Orange managed to hold the top offense in the country to just two goals and the top goal scorer Duncan McGuire to just one tally. SU forward Nathan Opoku picked out his striker partner Levonte Johnson in the last ten minutes for a game-winning goal as

Syracuse knocked off Creighton 3-2. After the game, Opoku said, “Creighton was the best team that we have faced so far,” adding to the splendour of the victory.

In its first national championship appearance, Syracuse faced eight-time national title winners Indiana. IU played for an NCAA record-tying ninth championship, but it was SU that claimed its first ever national championship in dramatic fashion. The Orange led for over 50 minutes of regulation before Herbert Endeley tied the score with ten minutes remaining. After two scoreless overtime periods, Syracuse scaled the mountaintop of college soccer with a 7-6 penalty shootout win in eight rounds.

This was one of fourteen wins by just one goal or in penalties this season for the ‘Cuse. All five victories for SU in the NCAA Tournament came by the slimmest of margins. Last year, the Orange finished 0-6-2 in games decided by one goal. That number turned to 14-2-3 in the span of twelve months. That is one way to finish with a program record 19-win season.