FRESNO, Calif. -- Sometimes the best defense is, well, a great defense. The NAIA’s No. 7-ranked Azusa Pacific shut down the high-powered offense of Fresno Pacific, handing the Sunbirds their first shutout of the season with a 2-0 decision Wednesday night at Ramirez Field, site of the upcoming 2009 NAIA Men’s Soccer National Championship.
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 15-2 overall, 8-2 GSAC, but the Cougars’ GSAC title hopes were dashed when both The Master’s (8-1 GSAC) and Biola (7-1-1 GSAC) were both victorious Wednesday. Azusa Pacific’s regular season is complete due to the Cougars’ scheduled conference bye this weekend, but The Master’s and Biola play head-to-head Saturday in a winner-take-all regular-season finale for the GSAC title. In the case of a tie, The Master’s will be the 2009 GSAC champion.
The Cougars struck for a pair of first-half goals, and the defense took care of the rest despite being out-shot for just the third time this season. Fresno Pacific registered 15 shots to Azusa Pacific’s 9, but senior goalkeeper Tyler Stromberg parried all 3 of the Sunbirds’ shots on goal, all 3 of which came in the game’s first 12 minutes. With the Sunbirds’ initial onslaught denied, sophomore forward Vinicius Dantas put away Azusa Pacific’s first shot of the game in the 25th minute. Senior midfielder Dana Yoshizu controlled the ball on the right end line and slotted a pass across the face of the goal to Dantas, who tapped it into the net to give the Cougars a 1-0 lead.
“They were the better side the first 10 minutes,” said Cougar head coach Dave Blomquist, “but we stayed organized, defended well, and the tide turned in our favor later in the half.”
Just 5 minutes later, Yoshizu was on the other end of a similar opportunity courtesy of sophomore forward Cito Soriano, but his strike from 6 yards out was tipped just over the crossbar by a brilliant effort from Fresno Pacific goalkeeper Timothy Nightingale. Sophomore forward Sam Sprauer pushed the lead to 2-0 in the 40th minute, cutting inside from the top left corner of the box for a low shot to the near post.
A 43rd-minute Fresno Pacific corner kick resulted in a 3-shot flurry in 30 seconds, but 2 of the opportunities were blocked by Cougar defenders and the third shot missed high. Sophomore Robert James took the place of senior defender Alejandro Ramos just 10 minutes into the game, teaming up over the final 80 minutes with central defenders Eric Winblad and Gareth Tomlinson as well as left back Davis Delamarter for the eighth cleansheet of the season for the defense.
Azusa Pacific will finish either second or third in the final conference standings, earning a first-round home game next Wednesday (Nov. 4) in the upcoming GSAC postseason tournament.