The Florida International University men’s soccer team returned to the Sweet 16 for the first time in nearly two decades, but the Panthers had to endure rain showers and a tense 12-round penalty shootout to get there.
Tenth-placed FIU secured their place in the NCAA Round of 16 on Sunday night, beating No. 19 University of New Hampshire 10-9 after a thrilling and wet 2-2 draw at FIU Football Stadium.
Panthers center back Carlos Scheckermann delivered the deciding penalty in the second round game, which was delayed by two hours due to bad weather, firing a hard shot past Wildcats goaltender Jassem Koleilat to FIU for the first time since 2003 to send back to the Sweet 16.
The dramatic penalty kicks began with saves from both goalkeepers. Substitute FIU shotstopper Matt Levy, who replaced starter Kevin Harr for the penalty shootout, first denied UNH defender Moise Bombito before Koleilat blocked Panthers forward Rasmus Tobinski’s attempt.
Each team scored the next eight penalties, some despite narrow saves. Levy then started the 10th round by fending off New Hampshire attacker Johann von Knebel and sending the home crowd into a frenzy.
Panthers midfielder Matteo Gasperoni came on next with a chance of winning, but he was thwarted by Koleilat with a great kick save.
Both sides made their next attempts before the crucial 12th minuteth Round where Wildcats defender Edgar Agular fired wide to the left before Scheckermann fired the deciding try home, though Koleilat got a hand on the ball.
FIU came on within two minutes to avoid penalties, but a free-kick Golazo in extra time by Rory O’Driscoll from left center equalized New Hampshire. The hit canceled out an own goal by teammate Chris Pinkman, who accidentally bundled a low cross into the Wildcats’ net after 4:37 in the first overtime.
O’Driscoll had also negated the Panthers’ opener by whipping in a corner kick from the left, which went untouched and bounced into back net about 10 minutes into the second half.
The Panthers started over Tobinski at the 31:15 mark of the opening stanza. The striker thundered a one-off goal on the doorstep after a low ball from Philip Hildebrandt and got the fans on their feet as Bad Bunny’s Despues De La Playa blared over the stadium speakers.
FIU will next travel to play Duke in an afternoon matinee on Sunday. Kick-off for the game, which could push the Panthers to the Elite Eight, is scheduled for 1 p.m. ET.