Soccer Upsets No. 6 South Carolina
LEXINGTON – Riley O’Neill netted a golden goal in the 105th minute to the delight of a raucous crowd of 1,488, lifting Kentucky to a 1-0 upset over sixth-ranked South Carolina on Sunday afternoon at the UK Soccer Complex.
With the game nearing completion and a tie looking more and more like the final outcome, O’Neill came through for his fourth game winner of the year. Nathan Li started the play near midfield, dribbling around a pair of defenders before cutting towards the middle and passing off to Masumi Turnbull.
With plenty of time and space, Turnbull lofted a great ball into the top right corner of the box where O’Neill chested it down, used one touch towards the endline to free himself before beating keeper Mike Gustavson to the near post.
The sensational goal capped a tremendous effort by UK on the afternoon and set off a wild celebration as the players mobbed a shirtless O’Neill in the corner and fans rushed the field.
The loss snapped a nine-game win streak for South Carolina that had been the nation’s longest. The Gamecocks fell to 9-2 on the year with their two hiccups to No. 5 Clemson and Kentucky.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats rebounded from a heartbreaking 1-0 overtime loss at No. 14 Indiana on Wednesday to improve to 8-2-1 and 1-0 in Conference USA O’Neill’s 12th goal of the year helped UK exorcise some of its demons as Kentucky had been winless in its last 12 overtime contests – including three this year – and just 1-6-11 in its last 18.
The win was a fitting end to a game in which UK was clearly the better side. The Wildcats held a 17-8 overall shot advantage, stopped a penalty in the fifth minute and had an 18-minute span in the second half when they had four great scoring chances go by the wayside.
The stretch started in the 55th minute when freshman Mark Halma appeared to have put UK up 1-0. From the left flank, Brad Frederick crossed a great ball to the back post where Halma rose and snapped a header that he couldn’t keep under the bar.
Eight minutes later, O’Neill appeared to have been taken down in the box, but no whistle was heard and play continued. Then in the 69th minute, he beat a defender down the right side and played the ball into space in the middle of the box, but Makan Hislop was first to it and cleared for USC.
Halma missed a second golden opportunity in the 71st minute, breaking free behind the defense before firing wide of the far post from just inside the left half of the 18.
The game nearly didn’t make it to overtime when Mark Wiltse had a great strike foiled by the woodwork in the 88th minute. After having his first shot blocked right back to him by Li, he took one touch and fired only to have the crossbar knock the ball away.
It was the only time USC came close to beating UK keeper Dan Williams, who was spectacular with three saves to earn the clean sheet. He came up huge save on the penalty kick, diving to his left to knock away All-American Mike Sambursky’s offering from the spot.
Williams made another great save in the 27th minute after the Wildcats turned it over in their half. Rob Charest ended up with the ball in the corner of the box and a free shot on goal, but again Williams was there.
Kentucky looks to ride the momentum of Sunday’s victory to next Saturday when it travels to No. 1 SMU. It is the third straight game against a ranked foe for the Wildcats.