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Hermann in hand, Gbandi scores UConn winning goal in 2-0 defeat of Creighton for national championship.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Sunday, December 10, 2000) – It is not often that a defender is awarded the Hermann Trophy, but yesterday Connecticut’s Chris Gbandi picked up the national "Player of the Year." Hardware.

This afternoon, Gbandi also demonstrated his offensive talents with a beautiful bending 24-yard free kick that turned out to be the game-winner as No. 6 UConn (20-3-2) dropped eighth-ranked Creighton 2-0 to earn the schools first NCAA championship since 1981 before 11,421 who watched the Men’s College Cup final at cavernous Ericsson Stadium.

"It was an unbelievable honor," the junior back said of the Hermann. "To be considered the best player is a bit overwhelming, but I believe it was a team effort. Anyone of these players on our team ould have received the award. I plan to carve out all their names on the trophy. Overall, it was a great weekend, I guess.

This is not to indicate that Gbandi didn’t handle his defensive responsibilities admirably as well. He, fellow defenders Will Thornton, Roberto Vargas and Max Zieky, as well as others, stifled the Bluejays high-powered striker force of Brian Mullan (18 goals) and Mike Tranchilla (19 goals). Trachilla managed one shot, Mullan none as UConn managed a 11-9 shots advantage in the first meeting between the two schools.

"I thought that Chris Gbandi was the star," said Creighton coach Bret Simon whose Bluejays saw their 11-game winning streak end. "Aside from his goal, he was the player that made the difference in the back. Every time you thought we were going to get through and get a great chance, he was there."

CU midfielder Ishmael Mintah took down Huskies midfielder Brent Rahim just above the right center of the penalty area to set up Gbandi’s decisive kick. He struck the ball with his left foot and it curled into the right corner for his sixth goal, just off the tips of junior goalkeeper Mike Gabb’s fingers with 15:27 elapsed.

"I had to position myself a little bit further from the post than I wanted to on the free kick," Gabb said. "The goal scorer took advantage of the inch I gave him. It was a well-hit ball. Unfortunately, when I went up, the ball went down."

Gbandi took off for the stands, pulling his jersey over his head to expose a "Superman" T-shirt before his teammates mobbed him. "I've been struggling on those kicks and hitting them all over the place," he said. "I made a promise that I would get one in in a big game and I guess this was it. It was very sweet to finally hit the ball in the net.

"As a defender you don't get too many chances. So I just waited. I bought the shirt and it was too small, so I cut it. Then I had to sew some of it back together and my dad was making fun of me. But I told him he would see, it was going to get used some day."

Darin Lewis sealed the victory with a goal to make it 2-0 at 85:41. Midfielder Rui Ferndandes sent David Castellanos free down the right flank. Castellanos carried deep into the box before crossing to Lewis who found the empty net for his 10th tally.

"Today, our defense held us together," said UConn coach Ray Reid. "A great goal by Chris and then a great counter goal by Darin. I couldn't be prouder of the effort from my team. . . We were told all year we couldn’t defend and here we are after allowing only one goal in the (entire) tournament."

The Huskies lost 2-1 in a four sudden-death overtime period here in the 1999 semifinals. The winner deflected off Gbandi's leg.

Creighton (22-4) was seeking its first NCAA championship in any sport.

In the 84th minute, Creighton had its best chance to tie. Joel Reddington took Mintah's short corner kick on the right side and crossed to Keith Sawarynski whose header went just right of the post from eight yards.

UConn goalkeeper Bryheem Hancock made four saves and patrolled his box with authority en route to his 15th shutout of the year, the first time the Bluejays were blanked in 2000.

"It was exactly as we wanted the game to be played," Simon said. "If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t change our strategy."

It was the second straight year the College Cup semis and finals were played at a mostly vacant Ericsson Stadium. Next year, the event moves to the cozy 22,555-seat Columbus (Ohio) Crew Stadium.

Connecticut 2, Creighton 0

Lineups: Connecticut - Bryheem Hancock, Chris Gbandi, Will Thornton, Roberto Vargas, Max Zieky, Brent Rahim, Lindon Pecorelli, Rui Fernandes, Mansour Ndiaye, Darin Lewis, Cesar Cuellar. Substitutes - Samuel Forko, Garrett Grinsfelder, Edwin Rivera, David Castellanos, Donny Mark; Creighton - Mike Gabb, David Wagenfuhr, Peter Henning, Lane Peercy, Joel Reddington, Todd Hammett, Ishmael Mintah, Joe Wieland, Brian Mullan, Mike Tranchilla, Keith Sawarynski. Substitutes: Matt Jewett, Zach Piercy, Corey Fox, Brian Hill, Ryan Small, Matt Thomas.

Connecticut - Gbandi (unassisted) 15:27.
Connecticut - Lewis (Castellanos, Fernandes) 85:41.

Shots: Connecticut 11, Creighton 9. Saves: Connecticut - Hancock 4; Creighton - Gabb 4. Corner kicks: Connecticut 7, Creighton 5. Fouls: Connecticut 18, Creighton 10.

Referee: Paul Tamberino. Assistant referee: Rich Heron, Alex Prus. Attendance: 11,421 at Ericsson Stadium in Charlotte, N.C. Weather: 48 degrees, overcast.

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