DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- There is a soccer saying in Brazil that claims, “Every game has its story.” For Azusa Pacific there could be no truer statement after its second consecutive stunning win.
In a game with twist and turns and plot development that could rival any novel, the Cougars got an overtime goal from Andriy Budnyy for the second consecutive day lifting them past Auburn Montgomery, 2-1, on a rainy early afternoon at the ERAU Soccer Complex in Daytona Beach, Fla.
The win boosted the Cougars into their first ever national semifinal.
The story began to unfold before the game even began with the Cougars having to brush aside their mistakes yesterday and refocus on a favored Auburn Montgomery team that had routed McKendree, 5-0, in its first round game.
Today, Azusa Pacific (19-4-0) was able to settle in well from the outset. “They were mentally ready to go today,” said head coach Phil Wolf. “They had a quiet focus.”
Wolf asked central defender Jeff Teach to mark the Senators’ prolific scorer, Hjortur Hjartarsson, who had 45 goals this season coming into the match.
With the prologue completed Azusa Pacific had completed a formula that led to the biggest win in program history.
The first half did not feature many quality scoring chances but yielded a positive result for the Cougars as they began to frustrate the Senators with their relentless play. Teach limited Hjartarsson to 1 harmless shot in the half.
“Teach was unbelievable,” said Wolf. “We asked him to look Hjartarsson in the eye and play him for 90 minutes and he did.”
"I was just going to play 1 vs. 1 with him with Damon (Brooks) supporting on either side. I wanted to keep him in front of me," Teach said.
The Senators (23-2) got on the board first in the 63rd minute when Elvar Gudjonsson’s ball over the top got by the defense and onto the foot of Hjartarsson who took advantage of a 1-on-1 opportunity by slotting the ball near post.
Despite the goal, Teach continued to make him work for all his shots. “Jeff was awesome,” said keeper James Crawford. “He didn’t let his guy face the goal at all and was right on him the whole time.”
Trailing 1-0, the Cougars had several quality chances, including a shot by Sven Simon from near the top of the box that was saved by keeper Bjarki Gudmundsson.
Azusa Pacific continued to stay confidant because the opportunities were there it only had to finish.
“When you’re playing well in a game you know it and the other team knows it,” Budnyy said. “We realized we could play with them in the middle and we eventually capitalized when we got another chance.”
In the 75th minute, a foul on Auburn Montgomery gave the Cougars a free kick from 25 yards out. Budnyy stepped up to take the kick but was redirected by Wolf get in the box and to let Matt Kristoff hit it.
“Matty whipped 3 unbelievable balls in and Dre is good in front of goal and that is where we wanted him,” said Wolf.
The tactic paid immediate dividends as Kristoff served the ball in front of the goal and Budnyy outleaped several defenders to head the ball past Gudmundsson into the back of the net to tie the game at 1.
The Senators put a scare into the Cougars with just under 5 minutes remaining when Hjartarsson ripped a shot that Crawford lunged for and knocked away only to have it go right to Magnus Olafsson who fired toward the empty net. But Mark Peters, just into the game minutes earlier, alertly cleared the ball off the line with a header over the crossbar.
“He seems like an incredibly seasoned, experienced player,” said Wolf of his freshman defender. “That was a savvy decision for him to make.”
After getting the result in overtime yesterday a confidant group of Cougars took to the pitch to begin the extra session again today. Again, Budnyy received a ball from Simon and moved quickly past 2 defenders before firing off his game winner.
“I was running full speed and I opened up my body to go far post and the keeper bought it,” said Budnyy. “I just changed my mind and went near post but it was like an out of body experience in slow motion.”
Budnyy ended the game 30 seconds into overtime – or 5 seconds quicker than yesterday.
The win means that Azusa Pacific is in the semifinals of the NAIA Tournament for the first time in program history but everyone is remaining focused. “It is a huge thing for the program and something to be proud of,” said Wolf. “We feel good about it but we still have a game to go play.”
The fifth-seeded Cougars will play in a national semifinal game on Monday, Nov. 21, at 6 p.m. (EST) against the No. 8-seed Hastings (Neb.).