Early goal carries Saint Louis to C-USA title

Saint Louis came into Sunday’s Conference USA men’s soccer championship match as an overwhelming favorite. It only took the Billikens 33 seconds to validate their status.

A strike from Dipsy Selolwane in the first minute of play was all the Billikens would need vs. Marquette at the USF Soccer Stadium. Saint Louis (16-1) won 2-0 to secure the C-USA Tournament title for the second consecutive year and book a place in the 48-team NCAA Championships.

“That’s how we play,” Selolwane said. “We have some great coaches here, and they always encourage us to go out and play as hard as we can. And fortunately today we got an early goal, and it helped out a lot.”

Saint Louis, the top seed, qualified for the final by defeating Charlotte 4-1 Friday, while sixth-seeded Marquette (12-8-1) won by the same margin vs. second seed UAB.

Sunday, the Billikens picked up where they left off vs. Charlotte, charging forward from the opening kickoff. Midfielder David Beck streaked downfield and rolled a slow pass to the center of the Marquette penalty area, where Selolwane, the leading goal scorer in the nation, collected. The forward mishit his first shot, but goalkeeper Adam Ubert misjudged his dive and the ball hit the right post and bounced back into play.

With the Golden Eagles defenders seemingly stunned by the quick attack, Selolwane took the rebound and fired inside the left post past Ubert.

“We just wanted to knock the ball around, let the ball do the work for us … we wanted to come out strong,” said SLU coach Dan Donigan. “We didn’t want to really give them too much early.”

Marquette coach Steve Adlard blamed the early goal on a lapse in concentration.

“The first one I put down to a mental letdown. We did it at their place, too,” Adlard said. “They scored a minute and 30 (seconds) at their place on a corner kick which was headed and then bumped on, and then toe-poked in the net.”

Selolwane scored again in the 74th minute to bring his total to 24 for the season, best in the country. The Billikens caught the Marquette defense napping, as midfielder Mike Hill sent a long pass to Selolwane, who charged forward unmarked. Selolwane took his time and placed the ball off Ubert into the goal.

A national player for Botswana, Selolwane led the nation in goals last year at National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics school Harris-Stowe and joined the Billikens for his senior season. He came into the United States by placing his soccer resume on the Internet, where the Harris-Stowe coaching staff found out about him.

“I just told myself I have to go to the States and try my luck because you never know what life has for you,” Selolwane said. “I guess it all worked out pretty good for me.”

Marquette ensured that Sunday’s match was not as one-sided as Friday’s semifinals. The Golden Eagles created a number of good scoring chances, including a 60th-minute shot by 6-4 forward Derek Gutierrez that barely cleared the crossbar and an open-goal shot by captain Sean Reti with two minutes remaining that was cleared off the line by SLU defender Jason Cole.

“That chance that we created and we would have finished on Thursday, or maybe Friday, becomes a little harder to finish today because your legs don’t do what they’re supposed to,” Adlard said.

“And I think we created the same chances, just didn’t manage to get them in the net.”

Marquette began the tournament by upsetting third seed USF 2-1 Thursday. Adlard said playing three matches in four days was hard to overcome, and the Tampa heat didn’t help his team, either.

“The 65 degrees in Milwaukee last couple of weeks doesn’t have anything like the same feel as whatever it was today,” Adlard said.

Nevertheless, Adlard praised the Billikens for defending their lead throughout the match.

“The thing about them is they’ve got so much experience and they’ve had such a history of winning, they know what to do in order to secure the victory,” Adlard said.

Saint Louis swept the All-Tournament awards, as Selolwane, Brad Davis, Marty Tappel and John Politis won the awards for most valuable forward, midfielder, defender and goalkeeper, respectively.

The Billikens and the other NCAA hopefuls find out their fate today at 3 p.m. when the selection show airs on Fox Sports Net.

  • Khari Williams covers men’s soccer and can be reached at oraclekhari@yahoo.com