This Was The Stuff Of Dreams

Jack Falla
Date Published: 
Sports Illustrated

The NCAA soccer final was a sweet vision for defending champ Indiana and an OT nightmare for Columbia, gem of the Ivies

As in a nightmare during which his deepest fear came true, Columbia Goalie Gary Escher could only watch, sprawled and helpless on the turf of Fort Lauderdale's Lockhart Stadium Saturday night, as Indiana Forward Pat McGauley redirected teammate Rodrigo Castro's shot into the Columbia goal. That score, which came after 102 goalless minutes—more than 12 of them in overtime—of the 1983 NCAA championship soccer game, gave the Hoosiers a 1-0 win and their second consecutive national crown. The score also effectively ended college soccer's dream game—No. 1-ranked Columbia (18-0) vs. No. 2-ranked Indiana (20-1-4). In fact, going in, this one had all the dream, dream, dream of an Everly Brothers revival.

Escher, the Lions' senior goalkeeper, started the dream sequence. He'd had an astonishing 12 shutouts and allowed only six goals in 18 games. On Thursday, Escher said that Columbia had "a dream defense [and] Indiana's going to need a dream offense to beat it." To which Hoosier Coach Jerry Yeagley, whose team averaged 3.48 goals per game this season, said Friday, "We're going to try to make it [the dream defense] a bad dream."

On one side were the hard-running—and sometimes hard-hitting—Hoosiers, whose 18-man roster included 16 American-born players and eight one-time red-shirts. Such was Indiana's depth that Yeagley was noted for substituting freely and running opponents into the ground. He also set a furious pace for his own team. In midseason, he held two-a-day practices, and just before Indiana left for Fort Lauderdale Yeagley brought in the Hoosiers' legendary basketball coach, Bobby Knight, to deliver a pep talk. "When you come off that field," said Knight, "make sure you've done everything you can to assure victory."

The approach is different on 116th Street in Manhattan's Morningside Heights section. Columbia Coach Dieter Ficken relied on quick, skilled players—a blend of Americans, nine of them from the New York City area, and foreigners—a strong aerial game and Escher's brilliant goalkeeping, a mix that made the Lions the first Ivy Leaguers ever to reach the NCAA soccer finals. The Ivies can't redshirt or give athletic scholarships, and Ficken is sometimes lucky to get a full squad for one-a-days, because late classes and labs often keep players out of practice. While the Lions didn't have a Bobby Knight to send them off, they did get about 200 of the college's 3,500 students to turn out for a Thursday noon rally in front of Low Library, where Columbia President Michael Sovern caught the Ivy spirit when he said the Lions "will be the first team to pass a soccer ball and Contemporary Civilization."

Besides Escher's goaltending, Ficken expected his tall back line, particularly 6'4" Defender Greg Varney, to control the airways. He also wanted his defenders to "play the ball up quickly through their midfield to our forwards."

But even Ficken admitted that Indiana's midfield was "frightening," anchored by All-America and Olympic development team member John Stollmeyer, who, at 5'9" and 170 pounds, is built like a miniature nose tackle.

Throughout the first half it was Indiana, not Columbia, that moved the ball upfield quickly, although the Hoosier defenders persisted in trying to send high balls toward the Columbia goal, thus playing to the taller Lions' strength.

"Look to the feet," Yeagley told his players at halftime. Meanwhile, Ficken was telling the Lions, "I don't know why they're trying for headers, but if this keeps up you are in an excellent position to score two goals." It was Escher who stood up and muttered, as much to himself as to anyone, "One goal. That's all. One. One-nil, we win." Escher seemed to think he would not—could not—be scored on. He was almost right.

In the second half, Stollmeyer's and Mike Hylla's close and sometimes brutal marking of Columbia's Midfielder Steve Sirtis helped to jam the Lion offense and underscored the impact of Columbia's loss of Midfielder Amr Aly, another Olympic development team member, who had pulled a muscle in his right thigh during the regular season.

As Indiana gradually intensified its attack, Escher became more and more brilliant, even as the dream defense was collapsing in front of him. Escher punched out a corner kick, and then a 20-yard blast by Indiana's top scorer, Paul DiBernardo, and then he fisted out a Stollmeyer throw-in with 4:06 remaining.

The overtime, the ninth for the Hoosiers but the first for the Lions this season, would consist of two 10-minute periods that had to be played to completion before sudden death could begin. But it was fairly obvious that the first goal would be the winner.

Twice in the opening overtime period Escher fended off Indiana shots. As the teams changed ends for the second overtime, Escher ran toward the stands gesturing and calling "C'mon" to the Lions' 25-member band, which responded with a high-volume Roar, Lion, Roar!

Escher's heroics continued into the second overtime. At 1:35 he stopped a shot by Castro, but a minute later Castro took a feed from Greg Kennedy and raced down the right side, beating Columbia Wingback Kevin McCarthy and drawing Escher to the near post. He then sent a shot—it looked like a cross, but Castro swore it was a shot—to the far post. The ball was wide. But McGauley, outrunning the Lions' Neil Banks and John Meegan, got his left foot on the ball and slammed it into the virtually empty net.

Columbia nearly tied the game with 1:41 to play, but Dexter Skeene's header, on its way into the Indiana goal, went wide left after it hit the Lions' Frank Ozello. "That one tore my guts out," said Escher, the game's defensive MVP.

McGauley, the offensive MVP, said of his goal, "All I remember is people were running around. And I was yelling, 'Let's do it guys!' I was in shock."

It had been during a quieter moment before Friday's practice when McGauley, a senior who was redshirted last year because of a broken leg, had said, "I knew I had only this game to make the dream come true."