AZUSA, Calif.-- It was 257 minutes in the making, and the end result was well worth the wait as Casey Sbrana’s 77th minute goal lifted the Azusa Pacific men’s soccer team to a 1-0 win over Hope International on Monday night. The goal and win were both firsts for the Cougars this season, helping the program avoid its first 0-3 start since 1984.
“Nothing’s coming easy right now, so we’re having to work through it. The guys did a great job to keep going for 90 minutes. Through the first couple games, and early tonight, things weren’t going well on the field. You go through stretches like that. So for them to keep working and get the goal is a credit to them,” said head coach Dave Blomquist.
The Cougars managed just two shots prior to Sbrana’s winner, which was further delayed thanks to a 30-minute weather suspension (lightning) and despite controlling possession, couldn’t muster much of an attack through the first 75 minutes. But on one flashy play the Azusa Pacific's sputtering offense looked like a thing of beauty.
Off a counter Azusa Pacific found Nick Markham in the middle, who then touched it to a streaking Daniel Stratton. Stratton raced down field, moved towards the middle, and gave it to Sbrana on the left side. And with impeccable timing the sophomore slotted it past the keeper from 13 yards out to give the Cougars their first goal of the year.
“We kept getting more dangerous and finding more gaps as time went on. Nick had a great win at midfield, and found the frontrunners at centermid. Daniel made a really nice outside pass, and what great arrival by Casey and a really cool finish,” said Blomquist.
Azusa Pacific was outshot 12-5 in the match, and the Cougars recorded only one shot in the first half. Junior keeper Chip Cox notched his first shutout of the season, registering four saves, including a highlight reel stop in the 67th minute when he made a leaping stop, punching away Jesse Sandoval’s sinking blast that was headed just under the bar. The shutout was the third of his career.
“It was another solid performance by Chip. He made every save he should have, and on the great strike that was dipping under the bar he tipped over. That stop saved the match for us,” said Blomquist.
Although Hope International (2-4) held the shot advantage, it was clearly a case of quality over quantity for the Cougars. Azusa Pacific had a great chance in the 30th minute when Oktay Bulut gathered a failed clear on the right side of the box, and took a shot from 15 yards out, but had it blocked.
With 38 minutes to play Stratton nearly got the Cougars on the board when he received a deep cross from Billy Flores and headed it towards the goal from 20 yards out with the keeper situated in the middle of the box. But a leaping two handed grab kept the match tied at 0-0.
The victory elevated Azusa Pacific's all-time home record against the Royals to 12-0-1. The Cougars will return to action on Thursday night for their second of three home matches this week. They’ll take on Montana State-Billings at 7 p.m. before welcoming Concordia on Saturday at 7 p.m.