Azusa Pacific men’s soccer posted another two-win week, taking victories over Fresno Pacific and Academy of Art.
As the top two teams in the PacWest took the field on Thursday, Oct. 18, all eyes were on the Cougar Soccer Complex. Azusa Pacific held sole possession of first place in the conference with just one loss separating the Cougars and Fresno Pacific. It was a tale of two halves as the Cougars held on to take a 2-1 victory and kept their place at the top of the PacWest.
“Coming into the game, we knew it wouldn’t be easy,” said senior captain Alexandar Pumpalovic. “Fresno had only lost one game and we knew that if we wanted to advance to regionals there would be more games like this one. It is not always going to be easy for us to play, and there are going to be teams that are better than this one, so it was a good test.”
In the first half, the Cougars were fluid in possession and attacked down all sides of the pitch. In the 13th minute, James Ndubueze got on the end of a Kyle Diaz cross and slotted the ball back across the face of the goal to the far post. The attack continued for Azusa Pacific, and about 10 minutes later, Gabriel Costa added to the Cougars’ lead. Costa received a pass on the left side of the penalty area, made a move to the middle and found the same corner of the goal that Ndubueze scored on earlier.
It seemed that the Cougars were off to the races as we have seen time and time again this season, but Fresno Pacific was not going to roll over. The Sunbirds turned up the pressure in the second half and showed Azusa Pacific a different style of play. While the Cougars had most of the possession in the first half, they had much shorter spells in the second half.
“We didn’t respond very well to their aggressive defending in the second half,” Head Coach Dave Blomquist said. “We still need to keep the ball and move the ball, and we needed to raise our game when they raised theirs. So with those two things it became anyone’s ball game.”
In the 59th minute, Fresno Pacific won the ball at midfield and quickly countered down the left side of the field. Brian Leyva got to the end line and sent in a cross finding Jose Segura who scored with a powerful header.
The rest of the second half was defined by the physicality of the game as Azusa Pacific looked to hold their lead. There were 24 total fouls committed in the second half alone, as well as three yellow cards and two red cards. Although there were some scary moments for the Azusa Pacific defense, the Cougars were able to hold on for a 2-1 victory.
On Saturday, Oct. 20, Azusa Pacific faced Academy of Art. Although the matchup was the first place team against the last place team in the PacWest, the scoreline didn’t show it as the Cougars walked away with a 1-0 victory.
Azusa Pacific’s offense was stymied in the first half. Despite the Cougars’ ability to move the ball around the pitch, they could not find the back of the net. APU had 12 shots in the first half, but only three were on target, and all three were saved by keeper Kris Jensson. The Cougars added another 17 shots in the second half and, finally, one went through in the 73rd minute. Gabriel Costa danced his way through defenders on the left side of the penalty area and slotted a pass to Callum Wallace who found the back of the net.
Despite the underwhelming scoreline, Blomquist was still pleased with his team’s performance.
“I thought we did a lot of really good things. We moved the ball well, our balance was good in the attack, we created chances. I think the only thing we lacked was finishing a few more of the really good ones that we created. It was good that the guys could find one [goal] because the longer it goes without finding that one, the harder it becomes to score.
The Cougars head back on the road next week traveling to Concordia on Wednesday, Oct. 24 before the Cornerstone Cup rivalry game against Biola on Saturday, Oct. 27.
Wallace noted that, while every game in the PacWest is important, the one against Biola is always circled on the calendar.
“All you hear at APU is the rivalry between us and Biola, especially with the soccer team. That rivalry has been here for a long, long time. So, especially with them beating us last year on our home field, we’ve got vengeance to pay and we’re on a good run, so we need to get things back to the way they should be.”