AZUSA, Calif. -- The Azusa Pacific offense was sharp in a 3-1 win over Westminster (Utah) College in the Cougars’ official home opener Saturday evening at the Cougar Soccer Complex. The season-opening 2-1 win over Simon Fraser (B.C.) was moved to Biola University over concerns about air quality due to smoke from this week’s Southern California wildfires.
A steady northeast wind blew a visible column of smoke from the still-burning 20,000-acre Station fire in Angeles National Forest near La Crescenta to the north away from the Azusa Pacific campus. A stifling 100-degree heat earlier in the day cooled to the low 90s by the 5:25 p.m. kickoff of the fourth and final contest of the Cougar Classic, which brought 4 games to the Cougar Soccer Complex in a 9-hour span Saturday.
For the second straight game, the NAIA’s No. 10-ranked Azusa Pacific struck first with an early goal, only to surrender the equalizer less than 5 minutes later. Sophomore forward Cito Soriano, who scored the opening goal of Thursday’s 2-1 win over No. 15-ranked Simon Fraser (B.C.), again drew first blood Saturday with an unassisted strike. Soriano initially hit the right post with a shot from 15 yards out on the right side of the box, then put away the rebound when it caromed right back to his feet 12 yards in front of the goal. The goal, his second of the season, gave the Cougars a 1-0 lead in the 14th minute.
However, a rebound at the other end of the field resulted in Westminster’s tying goal in the 18th minute. After Tysen Gehring hit the crossbar, Dennis Sellis headed the rebound back into the goal to tie the game at 1-1.
In the 36th minute, junior midfielder Brett Taylor’s low cross found junior forward Alex Earl 8 yards in front of the net, where Earl one-timed it into the net for what proved to be the game-winner. The Cougars struck again midway through the second half when senior defender Eric Winblad got into the attack for Azusa Pacific, which out-shot Westminster by a 23-6 margin. Winblad and Soriano executed a perfect give-and-go that led Winblad to an open chance from 15 yards out, which he deposited over Westminster goalkeeper for a 3-1 Cougar lead.
Ten different Cougars took shots, with Soriano taking a game-high 7 shots and sophomore forward Vini Dantas adding 4 shots. Azusa Pacific also had a 6-0 edge in corner kicks, and senior goalkeeper Tyler Stromberg posted 3 saves in the victory.
The Cougars improve to 2-0 on the year while remaining unbeaten in 21 straight regular-season home games (18-0-3 record) that dates back to the 2006 season. Westminster drops to 0-3. Azusa Pacific is on the road for the next 4 games, including visits to 2 of the region’s top NCAA Division III programs this coming week. The Cougars visit Redlands on Thurs., Sept. 3 for a 7 p.m. contest, then take on Pomona-Pitzer in a 1 p.m. meeting on Saturday, Sept. 5.