AZUSA, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific’s offense is back, fully charged and all geared up for Golden State Athletic Conference play after an impressive 6-1 victory over Embry-Riddle (Ariz.) Aeronautical University on a clear and sunny Saturday afternoon at the Cougar Soccer Complex.
The Cougars scored a season-high 6 goals today and have registered 9 goals over the past 2 matches, leaving no doubt about their ability to generate scoring opportunities again after managing just 4 goals in the first 5 games of the season. Azusa Pacific’s scoring output was balanced throughout the match, with only sophomore forward Alex Earl tallying multiple scores.
“It’s just been the growth of a young team,” Cougar head coach Phil Wolf said. “We got some things right formation-wise as coaches, and it was just a matter of time for us to get going. I knew we were going to be a strong team, but it was going to take some bumps in the road. We’ve had our bumps, but it’s coming around for us.”
The Cougars dominated possession of the ball, allowing the Eagles just 3 total shots towards Azusa Pacific’s goal. The Cougar offense, meanwhile, produced 24 shots, 14 on goal, and seemingly scored at will throughout the game, scoring 3 in the first half and tacking on 3 more after halftime.
“Ball possession never seemed to be a problem this year,” said junior midfielder Alejandro Ramos. “One thing we noticed early on, though, is that we had good success side-to-side across the field but we needed to get that extra something above the midline. We’ve been able to get that done now in the last few weeks, and it’s showing because we’ve been able to put it through to the back of the net.”
Azusa Pacific’s first goal occurred in the 7th minute, off a header from an indirect free kick about 35 yards away from the Embry-Riddle goal. Senior defender Jared Karkas fired an outstanding cross in front of the goal, connecting perfectly with sophomore defender Brett Taylor’s header to the near right post. Another Embry-Riddle foul, this one on a Karkas run in the penalty area, created the next chance for the Cougars. Earl converted the penalty kick low to the left in the 18th minute, giving Azusa Pacific a 2-goal lead.
“One of the keys to successful soccer is putting one of your first 2 or 3 chances away,” said Wolf. “Then you’re up 1-0 and the game changes. If you’re go into a half 0-0, tactically a team doesn’t have to play hard against you. When you’re up 20 minutes into the game, it makes it a whole lot different.”
Azusa Pacific kept the pressured on the Embry-Riddle defensive line for the rest of the half, with 13 scoring opportunities collected for the entire half. In the 39th minute, freshman midfielder Josh Salas made good on the Cougars’ third goal with a 15-yard unassisted goal to the right post.
The Cougars have now scored 3 first-half goals in consecutive games for the first time since the opening weekend of the 2007 season, when Azusa Pacific posted 4 goals each on Northwestern (Iowa) and Dominican at the Westmont-hosted Heritage Club Classic in Santa Barbara.
Starting in the second half, Azusa Pacific took a little while to get its offense back up to its first-half pace, but once it got rolling, it never slowed back down.
The Cougars scored a pair of goals in a 2-minute span in the 61st and 62nd minutes. Azusa Pacific’s fourth goal overall and the first of this sequence was entered in by freshman midfielder Davis Delamarter. Sophomore midfielder Ashkon Banihashemi was riding high along the right side of the Eagle penalty area, and his pass across the middle was one-timed by Ramos to Delamarter, who ripped it to the center post at a range of 20 yards.
Less than 2 minutes later, freshman forward Nathan Neinhuis emerged from traffic in the box with the ball and passed it to senior defender Beau Hayden, who then released a 10-yard rocket in the goal to launch the Cougar lead to 5 goals.
Azusa Pacific was not done with its scoring yet and their sixth goal may have their most impressive for its individual beauty. About 35 yards out from the goal, Earl emerged on a breakaway solo opportunity and maneuvered the ball around a couple Eagle defenders. Embry-Riddle goalkeeper Jakob Horstmann charged out to meet him as he played the ball high in the goal box, and Earl took advantage of the open net with an easy chip into the middle of the goal.
“Embry-Riddle passed it to the guy right in front of me,” Earl said. “From there, it was just one-on-one through the defender. The goalie went down a little early so I just hit it up over him.”
Embry-Riddle scored its lone goal in the 87th minute. Eagles forward Andre Kras Borges drilled a shot from 10 yards out on the left side right at junior goalkeeper Tyler Stromberg, who played the final 19 minutes in relief of senior goalkeeper James Crawford. Stromberg made the initial save but could not keep the ball within reach, and the deflected rebound drifted about 5 yards over to Embry-Riddle forward Carlo Franke, who took advantage of the opportunity by inflicting the ball towards the right post for the late score.
In addition to its explosive offensive performance, the Cougar defense eliminated much of Embry-Riddle’s attack. Azusa Pacific limited the Eagles to just 3 total shots and a pair of corner kicks.
“Our defense has improved through better communication and sharing responsibility,” said Ramos. “Early on, coming into a new year, we had new guys getting more playing time and getting into the mix. When you transition in between new teams, it filters through all the levels. Not only do we have different forwards but we also play differently. We also have new challenges in the back, but now we have new guys stepping up and our chemistry is getting better.”
Azusa Pacific will open its 10-game GSAC schedule with a home match scheduled with the NAIA’s No. 2-ranked Fresno Pacific this upcoming Tuesday, Sept. 30.
“I’m really excited to get going in conference play,” said Earl. “We’re starting to get more and more goal-scoring opportunities, and we’re starting to play more as a unit. Even though we had a couple of losses early on, we’re starting to really connect more as a team. It should be fun to play Fresno Pacific next week.”
The win advances Azusa Pacific’s record to 3-2-2 in their non-conference slate of games, while the result drops Embry-Riddle to 7-4 on the season. Azusa Pacific’s 6-goal outburst was its highest scoring output at home since a 7-0 win over Menlo in the NAIA Region II quarterfinals on November 2, 2005.