Rio Grande to play for national championship

By Randy Payton - For Ohio Valley Publishing

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. — Eduardo Zurita’s goal with just over 22 minutes remaining snapped a scoreless tie and lifted top-seeded University of Rio Grande to a 1-0 win over No. 4 seed Missouri Valley College in the semifinal round of the NAIA Men’s Soccer National Championship, Friday evening, at a rain-drenched Seacrest Soccer Complex.

The RedStorm improved to 22-1 with the victory – its 11th in a row – and will face 10th-seeded MidAmerican Nazarene (Kan.) in Saturday’s national championship game, which is scheduled for a 5 p.m. kickoff.

The Pioneers punched their ticket to the title game by virtue of a 4-2 win over Lindenwood-Belleville (Ill.) in Friday’s second semifinal.

Rio Grande will be playing in its third championship match in school history and its first since 2008. The RedStorm also became the first No. 1 seed to advance to the title match since Hastings (Neb.) in 2011.

The shutout win – Rio’s third straight in the national tourney – was its 13th of the season overall – a mark that ranks sixth nationally.

Zurita, a freshman from Barcelona, Spain, blistered a shot past MVC goalkeeper Albert Balsells from the top of the box with 22:07 remaining in regulation for the game’s only marker. He took a feed from sophomore Joao Paulo Antonio (Sao Paulo, Brazil) and tucked in a roller in the lower right side of the goal.

The goal was Zurita’s third of the national championship tourney and his 10th of the season.

“The conditions were so trecherous out there,” said Rio Grande head coach Scott Morrissey, referring to a non-stop deluge which left the middle of the pitch resembling a quagmire in spots. “It was one of those games where you just try to get into the final third of the field and capitalize on a mistake. We had two or three really good chances in the first half that just didn’t happen for us. We just tried to managed the game, get things in their half of the pitch and make things happen from there.”

Rio Grande finished with a 14-11 edge in shots, including 4-3 in shots on target.

Freshman goalkeeper Ben Martinez (Montpellier, France) recorded three saves in a route-going performance, his 13th clean sheet of the season.

Balsells also had three saves for Missouri Valley (20-3-1), which was making its first national semifinal appearance.

The loss, just the second shutout setback for the Vikings this season, snapped the team’s 16-game unbeaten streak (15-0-1).

“We had to make some adjustments to deal with what (Missouri Valley) was doing and that was definitely one of the keys to the win. I think the conditions neutralized what both of us wanted to do,” Morrissey said. “We’re glad to be playing one more game. After the second semifinal there are only two teams left. We’ll do our best to win a national championship.”

Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.

By Randy Payton

For Ohio Valley Publishing