AZUSA, Calif. -- Senior defender Jared Karkas came up with the equalizer in the 77th minute, salvaging a 1-1 double-overtime draw with Bethel (Tenn.) for defending NAIA men’s soccer champion and preseason No. 1-ranked Azusa Pacific in its 2008 season opener Friday afternoon at the Cougar Classic.
After a long throw-in from the right side, sophomore midfielder Ashkon Banihashemi dropped the ball back to the left to Karkas, who took a touch forward before blasting a low drive to the far post to beat Bethel goalkeeper Massimo Collu-Marchese.
The Cougars did not lack for chances, generating a 20-13 shots advantage, but the majority of their strikes were easy stops for Collu-Marchese, who finished with 9 saves for the Wildcats.
“We passed poorly, and we didn’t take care of the ball,” said Cougar head coach Phil Wolf. “Bethel was a good side – they have some quality players, and they can pass, trap and move the ball. But as far as we’re concerned, we haven’t had a performance like that in a long time. There’s definitely lots and lots of areas to work on.”
Bethel’s Mario Kovacevic headed a cross to the near post in the closing seconds of the first overtime, but Azusa Pacific senior goalkeeper James Crawford was up to the task, making the last of his 5 saves to keep the game tied heading into the second sudden-victory overtime period.
“I thought we defended fairly well – not great,” said Wolf, “but I thought James Crawford was pretty bright for us. If you can limit your opponent’s goal-scoring opportunities, that’s a positive, but, man, there aren’t too many bright things to look on from today.”
Bethel played the closing minutes of regulation a man down following Armando Orozco’s second caution and automatic ejection in the 87th minute, and the Wildcats dropped to 9 players in the 106th minute when Erick Rosas was sent off with a red card. Azusa Pacific pressed forward with the 2-man advantage, and senior defender Beau Hayden had an open look inside the box, but his shot went wide of the goal in the closing seconds.
Orozco scored the go-ahead goal for Bethel in the 58th minute, collecting a deflected cross for a touch to the near post that beat Crawford from 12 yards out.
The Cougar Classic continues Saturday with Bethel taking on Westmont at 1 p.m., followed by a matchup of the past 2 NAIA men’s soccer champions when Azusa Pacific takes on 2006 NAIA champion Graceland (Iowa) at 3:30 p.m.
“Graceland’s been a really successful program in the NAIA, and I think whenever you have that, it’s a really big game,” said Wolf. “We’d better be ready – they’re a better side than the one we played today. We’d better be ready to go, or else we’ll be in trouble. For a few of our guys (who played in that 2006 title game), this game might have some significance, but I think the other guys are just trying to learn how to play college soccer.”
Graceland’s 2006 title came at the expense of the Cougars, a match decided in a 10-round penalty kick shootout after the teams played to a scoreless draw through 110 minutes of regulation and overtime.