Virginia tops UCLA on penalty kicks for NCAA title

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CARY, N.C. (AP) — Virginia is again the best in college soccer.

The Cavaliers beat UCLA 4-2 on penalty kicks after a scoreless tie to earn the NCAA title Sunday.

Virginia won the College Cup when Riggs Lennon slipped a low shot past diving UCLA goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr. in the fifth round.

The Cavaliers (14-6-3) won their seventh national title, their first since 2009. They beat Akron here that year, also winning on penalty kicks after a scoreless match.

"Being the best at what you do, the absolute best at what you do, there's no better feeling," Virginia coach George Gelnovatch said. "It was really, really rewarding in the manner in which we did it."

Virginia led 2-1 after three rounds of penalty kicks with UCLA's Gage Zerboni and Willie Raygoza both missing on blasts off the crossbar.

Patrick Foss of Virginia and Larry Ndjock of UCLA converted to set the stage for Lennon's left-footed winner.

It set off a wild celebration in which Lennon pulled off his shirt, raised his arms and sprinted away as teammates chased him around the field.

"I couldn't believe it," Lennon said. "I just turned around and saw everyone running at me. I saw the crowd going nuts, and I was like, 'We just won a national championship.' It's the best feeling I've ever had."

Edwards made three saves for UCLA (14-5-5), which had scored three goals in each of its last three matches.

Virginia's victory came 17 years to the day of the last time it met UCLA in the NCAA final, a 2-0 victory by the Bruins in Richmond.

Virginia packed in its defense for much of the match, content to let the Bruins handle the ball in the midfield while preventing any free runs to the goal.

The strategy helped create a huge advantage in possession for UCLA, but the Bruins struggled to produce serious scoring threats despite outshooting the Cavaliers 15-9.

"As disappointing as it was to have lost, I think most people would say today we were the better team," UCLA coach Jorge Salcedo said. "Ultimately, we didn't find a way to score a goal, and that was our demise."

The Bruins had the best scoring opportunity in overtime in the 96th minute. Abu Danladi's one-hop shot after a deflection in the penalty area was saved by Virginia goalkeeper Calle Brown, the tournament's most valuable defensive player.

UCLA's best chance in regulation came in the 54th minute on a header by Ndjock. Felix Vobejda sent a cross from the right of the penalty area that was deflected over to Ndjock, whose header missed wide left.

"It's easy for me to delve into the negative tactics, but it is what it is," Salcedo said. "It was very difficult to break down. There's a saying in soccer that sometimes teams park a bus in front of their own goal. I feel like today there were two buses in front of the goal."

The match featured two of the sport's best programs.

The Cavaliers were in the College Cup for the 12th time, including the second year in a row. UCLA, meanwhile, was seeking its fifth national championship in its 14th trip to the final four.

Virginia improved to 3-7-1 against UCLA all time, notching its first win over the Bruins in four NCAA tournament meetings. UCLA had outscored the Cavaliers by a combined 8-0 in their first three postseason matches.

The Cavaliers again failed to produce a goal, but on this day they didn't need one.

"We've been a very defensive-oriented team," Brown said. "Hats off to my defense. I couldn't have earned that MVP without them. They played their heads off today. It was unbelievable to watch, just blocking and keep grinding. That's why we won."

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