AZUSA, Calif. -- Despite a 10-day layoff, the NAIA’s No. 2-ranked Azusa Pacific picked up right where it left off with a 4-0 win over Cal State San Marcos Wednesday afternoon. It was the Cougars’ seventh straight win to start the season and served as the final tune-up before Golden State Athletic Conference play begins.
Trenton Titus wasted little time delivering the lead to Azusa Pacific, scoring on a header from 14 yards out less than 5 minutes into the contest. Sophomore forwards Cito Soriano and Nathan Nienhuis combined for 3 second-half scores to provide the final margin, with Soriano providing 2 goals in the first 13 minutes following halftime.
The Cougars have scored 18 goals in their past 4 games, and Wednesday’s win was Azusa Pacific’s fifth time scoring at least 3 goals in a game through 7 contests this season. The Cougars posted a 10-7 shots advantage, scoring on 4 of the 5 shots it put on goal and out-shooting its opponent for the sixth straight game.
“The persistence and desire to improve through these first 7 games is what has most impressed me about this team,” first-year head coach Dave Blomquist said. “This is a group that enjoys being together.”
“They not only enjoy playing well together on the field, they enjoy being together off the field, as well. I think that’s one of the keys to our program, having guys who really enjoy being around each other and want to invest in each other. When we see that enjoyment on the field, that’s when we’re at our best.”
Barely 4 minutes into the game, junior midfielder Brett Taylor’s corner kick was initially cleared from danger, but junior midfielder Ashkon Banihashemi corralled it on the right side and sent it right back into the box. Titus, a freshman midfielder, headed it from right to left to the far post for his first collegiate goal, giving the Cougars a 1-0 lead just 4:31 into the game. That goal held up through halftime, and Soriano pushed the lead to 2-0 just 90 seconds into the second half after dribbling around several defenders deep into the box for a 9-yard unassisted scoring strike to the top right corner.
“We didn’t change, because a 90-minute game is a long game,” Blomquist said. “If you can be committed to stick to your style, at the end of the 90 minutes you’re going to be satisfied with your performance and, hopefully, with the result. Not everything went smoothly in the first half, but we didn’t stray from our game plan.”
In the 58th minute, Soriano collected a pass from sophomore forward Vini Dantas at the top of the box and buried a strike to the far post to give Azusa Pacific a 3-0 lead.
“We started to realize how far they were sitting back on us,” Soriano said. “We started playing better as a group with our attacking. (As a new player) I’m getting used to playing with this group, and it’s starting to help out as far as success for the team.”
Nienhuis scored his first goal of the season in the 75th minute when he and senior midfielder Mike Wilson connected for a 9-yard score to the near post along the right side.
Senior goalkeeper Tyler Stromberg saved Cal State San Marcos’ only shot on goal in the first minute of the game, although Brandon Zuniga’s shot off the crossbar nearly tied the game at 1-1 in the 18th minute. Stromberg controlled it off the bounce to protect what turned out to be the most dangerous chance of the day for Cal State San Marcos, as the Cougar defense spearheaded by center backs Eric Winblad and Gareth Tomlinson surrendered just 7 total shots in Azusa Pacific’s third shutout of the year.
“The relationship between a goalkeeper and his back four is vital to the success of a game,” Blomquist said. “This group and Tyler are new together, and it just takes time to really become a solid back four.”
With the win, Azusa Pacific wraps up the non-conference schedule with a perfect 7-0 mark. The Cougars visit Vanguard University in Costa Mesa for Saturday’s 4 p.m. conference opener. Cal State San Marcos, an NAIA independent, drops to 4-5 overall with a 3-3 mark against GSAC programs.