CARSON, Calif.-- It’s rare to see a game where both teams create as many chances as Azusa Pacific and Cal State Dominguez Hills did end in a tie. It’s even rarer for both teams to combine for just two goals on 38 shots, and not just shots, but quality looks. But that’s exactly what happened in the Cougars’ season opener against the Toros as the two teams played to a double overtime 1-1 draw in a match that could easily have been shootout.
“It ended 1-1, but there could have been quite a few more goals in either direction. The game required both teams to make outstanding defensive plays,” said head coach Dave Blomquist. “It’s encouraging to create so many chances, especially against a good team like Dominguez Hills. If we continue to create opportunities like that the goals will come.”
Azusa Pacific finished with 17 shots, putting four on goal, and seemingly 10 just inches off target. The Toros tallied 21 shots, also putting four on frame, beginning with the first goal of the game when Jose Vaca took a through ball and placed it far side under the dive of keeper Joe Geletko from the right side of the box in the 30th minute.
Oktay Bulut netted the only score of the match for Azusa Pacific, heading it in off a sequence that saw Jeremy Bishop pass it to Carlos Garcia Partida who then crossed it to Bulut deep in the box in the 80th minute.
In both overtimes each team created plenty of chances, most notably when Garcia Partida drew a penalty kick with just three seconds left on the clock of the first overtime period. However, the ensuing shot, which was taken by Bulut, was blocked on a remarkable save by Trey Mitchell, who guessed right to keep the game alive. In the second overtime each team recorded a pair of shots, with Garret Mehrguth serving up a perfect cross to Bulut, who had his header travel left of the goal. Bulut also had a an unlucky break when his header bounced off the ground and somehow over the net during the first overtime.
The theme of the match was apparent from the start. In the first half Dominguez Hills tallied seven shots, while the Cougars trailed with four. Azusa Pacific’s first good opportunity came in the 30th minute on a would-be highlight reel play from Garcia Partida. Bishop played a through ball to Mehrguth, who crossed it first time. On the receiving end Garcia Partida was there for a remarkable bicycle kick that nearly knotted the match, but instead clanked off the crossbar.
In the 35th minute John Tribbey took a no-look from Keenan Armbrust along the left sideline before crossing it to a streaking Garcia Partida in front of the goal just before the Toros’ keeper snared it on a diving grab.
After going to the half trailing 1-0 Azusa Pacific continued to work, creating a good opportunity in the 57th minute. On the play Garcia Partida ran down the line, cut back and found Bulut in the middle, who touched it to freshman Keyran Kelly for a good look near the goal, but the shot was just off the mark.
In the 73rd the Cougars came within inches of tying it when Armbrust slotted the ball to Bulut in center of the box, who then back-heeled it just to the right of the goal before the Toros’ keeper even knew what happened.
On the other side of the field Dominguez Hills continued to press, looking to make it a 2-0 advantage, but Michael Sahagian made a nice defensive play, clearing a cross deep in the box in the 76th minute to keep the game within reach just before Bulut notched the equalizer in the 80th.
“I was really proud of the way the guys played. Overall I felt their performance was excellent. I don’t think we’re at full fitness yet, but in terms of how we played and what we tried to do I’m pleased. It’s a great start to the season,” said Blomquist.
The match marked the first time since 2008 that the Cougars opened the year with a draw. On Saturday Azusa Pacific will have a chance to grab its first win of 2012 when the team welcomes Biola for the first game under the lights at the Cougar Soccer Complex. The match is slated to start at 7:30 p.m.