Herd wins CUSA regular season title

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MIAMI, Fla. The 14th-ranked Marshall men’s soccer team completed the 2019 regular season with a 2-1 victory over No. 19 FIU to win the Conference USA Regular Season Title, Friday night. The Herd will be the No. 1 seed in the upcoming C-USA Tournament, Nov. 13-17, in Norfolk, Va.

It is the Herd’s first regular season title since back in 2000 in the Mid-American Conference. As the top-overall seed, Marshall will have a first round bye. The Charlotte 49ers hold the No. 2 seed and receive a bye as well. The FIU Panthers are the No. 3 seed.

Marshall improves to 13-2-3 overall and 5-1-1 in conference play. The Panthers fall to 9-2-5 overall and 4-2-1 in league action.

“When a team wins a championship, there’s a lot of credit to go around,” an emotional Herd head coach Chris Grassie said after the win. “Tonight is no exception. The lads played their hearts out! Everyone one of them deserves credit. But we also have to thank the people that support us. (Athletic Director) Mike Hamrick, (Academic Counselor) J.T. Mellendick, (Compliance) Brady Mangus, (Chief of Staff) Jeff O’Malley, (Associate AD) David Steele, (Strength and Conditioning coach) Sam Black, (Athletic Trainer) Kerri Francis, (Director of Equipment) Zac Littleton, (Equipment) Jacob Frye, (Sports Information) Scott Hall, (Broadcast Talent) Jake Griffith, (Director of Marketing) Tyler Able, (Assistant AD for Fan/Donor Engagement) Chuck McGill, and our facilities guys. Everyone of them is part of our team and make this team run smoothly behind the scenes.

“They deserve as much credit as any of us.”

It was an exciting first half of action that led to all three goals scored in the match. Marshall got on the board first as junior Jamil Roberts fired in a shot passed the keeper’s left side on a pass from freshman Joao Souza. It was Roberts’ fifth goal of the season, but he was not done.

Just one minute and 56 seconds later, FIU hit the equalizer as Andoni Garro found the back of the net for the second time this season. The tied score did not last long as Marshall again went on the attack.

With a chance on a breakaway, sophomore Vitor Dias sent a pass to Roberts who nailed it into the back of the net to give the Herd the lead in the 23rd minute. For Roberts, it was the third time in his career with two goals scored and the second time this season as he notched both goals in a 2-1 win over Butler back on Sept. 6.

The teams went in at the half with the Herd leading 2-1 after a hard-fought 45 minutes on a hot and muggy night. FIU outshot Marshall 10-7 in the half and 5-3 on goal.

The second half was another intense battle as emotions began to run high. The Herd defense was able to respond to the pressure from the FIU attack and keep sending the ball back downfield. Redshirt freshman Milo Yosef had a chance at a third goal for the Herd on a long shot from almost midfield as he caught the keeper well out of the box. The shot made it beyond the outstretched glove of Daniel Gagliardi but then just hit off the left post.

Redshirt senior keeper Paulo Pita had an exceptional match with six total saves including two back-to-back in the seventh minute in the first half. He blocked one shot and then stopped the rebound as well that helped keep the match scoreless. He came through big again in the second half with two more saves and several punch outs off corner kicks.

FIU had a flurry of opportunities in the closing moments, but the Herd defense was again up to the task in preserving the big road win and earning the number-one seed in the conference tournament. The celebration on the field began as the final seconds rolled off the clock and Pita had the ball in his hands.

Marshall began the season picked to finish fourth in the preseason coaches’ poll. Coach Grassie in just three short seasons turned around a program that missed out on the conference tournament in 2016. He led the Herd to the semi-final round with first round upsets in each of his first two seasons in 2017 and 2018. Grassie now has his program ranked in the Top 25 for the last four weeks and a regular season championship heading into his third conference tournament in three years.

The Conference USA Tournament bracket is set to be released Saturday morning at 10 a.m.