By Andrew Robinton ’04
After arguably the most successful regular season in program history, the men’s soccer team lost a heartbreaker to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, 2-1, at Roberts Stadium in the opening round of the NCAA tournament Nov. 18. It was Princeton’s second first-round exit from the national championships in as many years and snapped what was a program-best 12-game win streak.
A physical, hard-fought match that forced several Princeton players out of the game with injures was controlled by the Tigers from the opening whistle. Princeton (13-4-1 overall, 7-0 Ivy League) had several outstanding opportunities in the game’s opening frame. Junior forward Antoine Hoppenot, the team’s leading scorer, had a solid chance in the 15th minute, volleying a feed from just inside the 18-yard box that found the outstretched arms of UMBC keeper Dan Louisignau. Several minutes later, a strong throw into the UMBC box from Princeton sophomore defender Mark Linville found the head of sophomore forward Matt Sanner, but Louisignau again was there to make the save.
As the half continued, the tension was building, aided by a boisterous, quickly-growing Princeton contingent in the stands exchanging jeers with a more modest UMBC crowd. The crowd erupted when the Tigers finally found the back of the net in the 32nd minute. Hoppenot, an offensive weapon all season, miraculously curved a corner kick past a wall of Retriever defenders and into the goal. But the Tigers failed to build on the lead, and the feisty UMBC squad countered several minutes later when the team’s leading scorer, Levi Houapeu, buried a rebound past senior goaltender Sean Lynch.
Houapeu’s 15th tally of the season evened the game at 1-1 and gave UMBC momentum at the half. Several key Princeton injuries late in the first frame — sophomore midfielder Lester Nare had to leave the game and be taken to the hospital with a concussion, while senior midfielder Tim Sedwitz went down with a severe ankle sprain — were ominous signs going into the second half.
After 35 scoreless minutes, UMBC got the advantage with a goal in the 79th minute. Though Princeton had numerous opportunities in the closing minutes, no attempts were able to beat Louisignau, cruelly ending the Tigers’ magical streak and their postseason run.
Andrew Robinton ’04 is an editor and freelance writer in New York City.