FULLERTON, Calif. -- Junior forward Vinicius Dantas provided a pair of first-half goals, and the NAIA’s No. 13-ranked Azusa Pacific kept the pressure on the rest of the way en route to a 3-0 road win over Hope International Wednesday afternoon in Fullerton.
Dantas put a nice finish on a pass through the defense from senior forward Alex Earl, driving the ball on the first touch into the side netting for a 1-0 lead in the 12th minute. Less than 15 minutes later, Hope International’s failed clearance ended up with senior midfielder Brett Taylor, who found Dantas at the top of the box. Dantas buried the finish once more just past the 26-minute mark, giving the Brazilian forward a team-high 9 goals with his third 2-goal game of the season.
“Early goals are important because they can settle the team down, especially on the road,” Cougar head coach Dave Blomquist said. “There’s no easy road game in the GSAC. It really doesn’t matter who you’re playing or where they are in the standings. Hope had a very tight game in their opener, and every time we’ve played them here, the games have been tough. We were prepared for a tight game and wanted to take a chance early if we could.”
Sophomore midfielder Trenton Titus put away a 79th-minute header off a Taylor corner kick to push the Cougars’ lead to 3-0. Taylor’s 2-assist game was the second of his career, and it came almost a year to the date and against the same opponent as his first when he set up a pair of goals in Azusa Pacific’s 5-1 win against Hope International last season (Sept. 30).
Hope International’s Manny Plascencia missed a penalty kick in the 82nd minute that could have trimmed the lead back to 2 goals with 8 minutes to go, but Plascencia missed the top right corner of the frame and the Royals never got another shot on goal. Sophomore goalkeeper Joe Geletko was credited with 3 saves on the day, earning his fifth shutout of the year.
Between Dantas’ first-half scores, Hope International nearly came up with the equalizer when Jon Castro’s header hit the bottom of the crossbar and bounced straight down in front of the goal. The officials ruled the shot never crossed the goal line, keeping the Cougars’ 1-0 lead intact.
Azusa Pacific took twice as many total shots as Hope International, 16-8, and 8 of the Cougars’ shots were on goal. After piling up a 9-2 shots advantage in the opening half, Azusa Pacific continued its attack with a 7-6 shots edge after halftime. Dantas and Earl had 4 shots each, with Dantas putting all 4 of his shots on goal.
“I think in today’s game we did a better job of still playing our style with a 2-goal lead,” Blomquist said. “I thought our passing and possession with the lead was much better today. Once we had the lead, we moved the ball and defended well, and I was pleased with the performance from the beginning to the end.”
With the win, Azusa Pacific levels its GSAC record at 1-1 while improving to 8-2 overall, and Hope International drops to 5-4 overall and 0-2 in GSAC play. The Cougars are back in action when they host Point Loma Nazarene at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 2, at the Cougar Soccer Complex.