AZUSA, Calif. -- Senior defender Eric Winblad and sophomore forward Cito Soriano represented the Azusa Pacific men’s soccer program on the NAIA All-American first team, the second straight first-team selection for Winblad while Soriano received the honor in his first year as a sophomore transfer to the Cougars. It was the second straight year, and just the second time in program history, that 2 Azusa Pacific players were named to the All-American first team in the same season.
Just the fourth 2-time NAIA All-American first-team honoree in Cougar history, Winblad was the anchor to an Azusa Pacific defense that surrendered just 14 goals, posted 8 shutouts and allowed more than 1 goal only twice this season. Winblad scored 2 goals and had a pair of assists as a central defender, and 1 of the assists set up the game-winner in a 2-0 road victory over Point Loma Nazarene. Winblad scored both his goals in the first 4 games of the season, helping Azusa Pacific to a season-opening 11-game winning streak under first-year head coach Dave Blomquist. Winblad was also named GSAC Player of the Year for the second straight season, and he picked up his third straight All-GSAC award.
“Eric’s main contribution to our team is his insight into the game,” Blomquist said. “He cuts a lot of stuff out that the other team is trying to do before it gets to a goal scoring opportunity. What really stands out the most with him is that he is such a well-rounded player whose overall game is tremendous. He is great in the air, reads the game well, and he is a great passer.”
As one of the Cougars’ top strikers, the 6-foot-3 Soriano announced his presence on the offensive end by scoring less than 90 seconds into Azusa Pacific’s season-opener, a 2-1 win over then-No. 15-ranked Simon Fraser (B.C.). Soriano scored 7 of his 10 goals on the year in the Cougars’ 11-0 start, and he scored or assisted multiple goals in 6 of the 17 games he started. Soriano was also named to the All-GSAC team, after ranking second in the GSAC in total points (32) and leading the conference in assists with 12.
“Cito’s greatest asset is how he plays within the team’s framework,” Blomquist said. “He makes the players around him better because he is a smart player and a great passer. He did a great job partnering with all of the other strikers. If a striker can generate success with a number of other players, it says a lot about how good of a player they are.”
In addition to Soriano and Winblad, Azusa Pacific had 3 additional All-GSAC honorees. Senior midfielder Reid Baker, sophomore forward Vinicius Dantas and junior midfielder Brett Taylor all picked up their first all-GSAC nod.
“All three of them are dynamic players in the attack,” Blomquist said. “I think that is one of the main things that stands out with them, and that was one of our team’s strengths this year.”
Baker tallied 6 goals, 6 assists and 3 game-winning goals this season, including back-to-back game-winners in GSAC wins over Point Loma Nazarene and Concordia. He scored in each of the Cougars’ first 4 conference contests, finishing sixth in the league in points, goals and assists in GSAC play.
Dantas was the Cougars’ season scoring leader with 12 goals, including a team-high 4 game-winners. Taylor finished with 6 goals and 5 assists despite missing the final 6 games of the campaign due to injury.
“When we were clicking and were all on the same page going forward, that was when we were at our best,” Blomquist said. “These three players were a big part of our attack. Their recognition (with these awards) tells how dynamic they are in the attacking third.”
Midfielder Ashkon Banihashemi, a junior biochemistry major, earned recognition as a 2009 Daktronics-NAIA Men’s Soccer Scholar Athlete for his efforts on the field and in the classroom. All Daktronics-NAIA Scholar Athlete recipients must be a junior or above in academic standing and have a minimum GPA of 3.50.
Click below for full postseason honors lists.