Louisville’s Aaron Horton is getting used to being the hero.
A week ago, the freshman forward from Ohio put the Cardinals into the Final Four with a late goal in a victory against the UCLA Bruins.
On Friday, against North Carolina, Horton again stepped up for Louisville. With three minutes left and with the game deadlocked at 1-1, the match seemed destined to be defined in penalty kicks. But then Horton came on.
The substitute striker took a pin-point pass from sophomore midfielderto author the game winner with a classy finish with the outside of his right foot, chipping the ball over Tar Heels’ goalkeeper Scott Goodwin in the final minute of play.
Back-to-back goals, back-to-back wins for Louisville.
“Basically, Ryan was the one who made that play happen,” said Horton, deflecting credit to his teammate. “He got the ball and started dribbling and took it out wide and slipped it through so I could finish. I knew if the opportunity came that we were going to put it away because that’s what we’ve been doing all season.
“I just slotted it away and now we’re heading to the national championship.”
The goal-scoring hero started the match on the bench behind first team All-American and star forward Colin Rolfe. Despite Rolfe’s pedigree, Horton found plenty of opportunities to join the fray.
Throughout the match when he came in, Horton showcased his audacity by constantly running at the North Carolina defense. Multiple times, the mercurial freshman found himself surrounded by Tar Heels defenders only to dribble through and find himself barreling towards goal.
This ability to come in late and make an immediate impact did not start on the snowy pitch at Cardinals Park last week or even Friday night in Santa Barbara, but on the training ground. Partnered with someone as accomplished as Hermann Trophy finalist Rolfe, Horton developed into a player capable of delivering in clutch situations.
Following the victory against North Carolina, head coach Ken Lolla stressed that the pair were instrumental in the Cardinals’ success. With Rolfe playing a great deal of the match and using his physical play to soften up defenses, Horton was able to use his speed to attack the back line.
“Coach and I have really stressed his practice habits and that the harder he works on the practice field, then the better he will perform [in a game]. I’m sure he’s a believer in that now,” said Rolfe. “To see him reach his stride at a moment like this is great and I’m very happy for him.”
Horton has progressed a great deal through the season, but has flown under the radar as one of Lolla’s options off the bench. The season was so modest for the freshman that he finished the 2010 season with only three goals, an output that he has nearly eclipsed in the postseason.
With the Cardinals set to put their undefeated record on the line against mighty Akron in the College Cup Final on Sunday, Lolla doesn’t envision that Horton’s role will change one bit.
“We’re going to continue to wait till late, and then throw him in.”