AZUSA, Calif.--The Azusa Pacific men’s soccer team hasn’t lost a season opener in 18 years, and for the first 45 minutes it looked like the Cougars were all set to make it 19 straight. However, Grand Canyon (Ariz.) took control of the match in the second half, scoring twice to give No. 12 Azusa Pacific its first season opening loss since 1993.
“It was a tale of two halves,” said Head Coach David Blomquist . “I feel like we played really well in the first half, and they played better in the second.”
The Cougars began the match strong with a few early opportunities. In the 13th Garrett Mehrguth sent a cross towards the back post, but Azusa Pacific couldn’t connect.
Minutes later Nathan Nienhuis nearly converted a corner from Jeremy Bishop, but the shot was stopped by GCU’s Adam Garcia.
Then, in the 23rd minute Nienhuis gave the Cougars their first score of the year off a pass from Bishop as Azusa Pacific took the lead 1-0.
“It was a really nice goal. Jeremy slipped it into Nate…there was nice movement,” said Blomquist. “If we can continue to do that we’ll score some goals.”
Moments later the Antelopes made their first move. Following an indirect free kick from Oktay Bulut, GCU started a fastbreak. The ‘Lopes got off a shot that was initially saved by Joe Geletko, but went back to the offense after a rebound. Grand Canyon then shot again, but it was blocked by Robert James who defended the goal after Geletko’s save took him out of the play.
The two teams traded possessions for the remainder of the half, but Azusa Pacific took a 1-0 lead into the break.
Grand Canyon got on the board at 53:53 with a penalty kick from Nick Sykes that went low to the right as Geletko guessed left. The Cougars had a chance to regain the lead in the 65th minute with the ball deep into the box, but failed to get off a shot.
In the 74th minute the Antelopes nearly took the lead after Azusa Pacific couldn’t clear a corner, but Cordero Young’s right-footed shot was saved by Geletko. The junior keeper notched three saves on the day.
Two minutes later Grand Canyon’s Saeed Robinson scored from six yards out on the near post, giving the visiting team the 2-1 lead.
The Cougars had a few late chances, most notably on a header from Michael Sahagian that sailed wide right, but Azusa Pacific couldn’t tie it up, losing the second match of the Cougar Classic 2-1.
The Antelopes (No.11 in NCAA Div. II) outshot the Cougars 17-5 in the match, including a 10-3 advantage in the final 45 minutes. Both teams tallied 18 fouls, with the Cougars racking up 14 in the second.
“In the first game sometimes you worry about the jitters, but I was pleased with the first 30 minutes,” said Blomquist. “We need to sustain that level throughout the match …We did a lot more reacting and not enough initiating.”
Azusa Pacific will have a chance to even its record at 1-1 as the team faces No. 8 Oklahoma Baptist on Saturday at the Cougar Soccer Complex. The Bison beat Westmont 2-1, overcoming a 1-0 deficit in the first match of the Cougar Classic.
Saturday's contest was originally scheduled for 1 p.m., but has been changed to 11 a.m.
Highlights from the match