AZUSA, Calif.-- It wasn’t the result they were looking for and now, after suffering a 4-2 loss in the GSAC semifinals to Concordia, the NAIA’s 10th ranked Azusa Pacific will have to play the waiting game.
The Cougars (12-3-3) could have clinched an NAIA playoff berth with a win today and again next Saturday, but an early 2-0 hole that turned into a 3-goal deficit proved to be too much to overcome as Azusa Pacific will wait until November 13 when the final NAIA MRPI is released to hear word on whether or not they’ll receive one of the seven at-large bids.
“Let’s hope it’s not our last game,” said Head Coach Dave Blomquist. “Hopefully we’ll be rewarded for a really good regular season. We’ll prepare as if we’re playing in the first round.”
The Cougars, who gave up a season-high four goals, were on the heels for most of the match after No. 13 Concordia (14-3-3) got two on the board in the first 16 minutes. The Eagles then extended the lead to 3-0 four minutes into the second half before Azusa Pacific finally answered with an Oktay Bulut goal at the 52:10 mark. In the match the Cougars narrowly outshot Concordia 15-14, but much of that total came late for Azusa Pacific when the game was virtually decided.
“I thought Concordia played really well. They’re a good team with good attacking players and they were too much for us today,” said Blomquist. “I was really pleased with the way the guys kept pushing, even after trailing by three goals.”
Concordia scored the first goal in the third minute when Christian Ramirez sent a cross along the end-line from right of the box all the way across the field. After no Cougars were able to get to it Neil Anaya went far-post past Joe Geletko. The Eagles took a 2-0 lead when William Prado got a through-ball from Ramirez and then centered it to Edgar Orozco after Geletko came out to challenge on the pass. Michael Sahagian nearly chased Orozco down, but he was too late as the Eagle placed it in the center of the open-goal in the 16th.
The Cougars couldn’t manufacture anything in the first 45 minutes and went into the break trailing by two after being outshot by three (5-2).
Early in the second Ramirez, who was all over the field today with three assists and a goal, got fouled as he was dribbling towards the box; setting up a free kick from 25 yards out. Ramirez sent it over a line of defenders and forced Geletko to make a diving save. But after the stop Prado gathered the rebound eight yards out on the right and buried it nearside to give the Eagles a commanding 3-0 lead in the 49th minute.
But despite trailing by three, the Cougars didn’t get down. In the 53rd Carlos Garcia-Partida dribbled down the right side and crossed it to Bulut who was near the penalty area. The junior forward settled and slotted the ball towards the left post to get the home team on the board.
Azusa Pacific got off 13 shots in the second half as it desperately tried to get back into the match. But a Concordia goal by Carlos Chavez in the 72nd minute all-but sealed the game. The Cougars did, however, get a late goal when Kevin Yang broke through for a one-on-one look with the keeper. The junior placed the ball rightside from 15 yards out in the 89th minute, but at that time the outcome was a mere formality.
NAIA PLAYOFF BIDS
The NAIA awards each conference tournament winner a spot in the NAIA National Championship Tournament. There will be seven at-large bids awarded to teams that do not win their conference tournament (such as Azusa Pacific). The seven bids will be given to the teams with the highest rating in the final NAIA MRPI, which comes out November 13. The Cougars were ranked 7th in the last rating (Oct. 26).