SPOKANE, Wash. - Gonzaga University head men's soccer coach Einar Thorarinsson thought the effort his team put forth Sunday was as good as it has been through the first half of the West Coast Conference season.
But unfortunately for the Bulldogs, the halfway point of the WCC chase finds them 0-6-0 after league-leading Santa Clara University took a 1-0 verdict on a goal in the 67th minute in front of 588 fans at Gonzaga Soccer Field.
"The effort was awesome," Thorarinsson said.
The Broncos (8-5-0; 5-1-0), a 3-2 overtime winner Friday at the University of Portland in a first-place showdown, got the lone goal of the match from Ryan Masch at 66:46 to send the Bulldogs (4-9-0; 0-6-0) to their sixth straight setback.
The ball went deep to the end line near the far post, and Erik Hurtado passed back out to the top where Masch was all alone and had an easy look at the net for his fourth goal of the season and his third match winner.
The fast-paced first half saw plenty of scoring opportunities as Gonzaga keeper Ryan Caballero had three saves and his SCU counterpart Larry Jackson was called on for a pair of saves and some help from his defense.
GU's Conner Bevans almost put the Bulldogs on the scoreboard early as Jackson came out of the goal at the near post and Bevan's slipped the ball behind him. But a SCU defender cleared the ball and saved what seemed to be a sure goal at 6:45.
Caballero, who started the first five matches of the season and hadn't seen action since until coming on in the second half of the match Friday against Saint Mary's, came up with his first big save just seconds after Bevans' near miss. Carlos Montes' shot was tipped over the top of the goal by Caballero. Three minutes later it was Caballero again denying Montes, the time on a shot from inside the top left of the 18 that was ticketed for the near post until Caballero dove to the post to deflect the ball away.
Thorarinsson, who has given all three keepers a chance to win the job through the first 12 matches, thinks he may have found his man in Caballero.
"Ryan wants the job for the remainder of the season. He showed today he wants to play the next match." Thorarinsson said.
The Bulldogs also had a couple more opportunities in the opening half, Bevans' shot from deep on the left wing skipping past the far post in the 26th minute and Greg Carter hitting the post with a header off a cross in the 31st minute.
Thorarinsson praised the entire squad for the effort, but singled out a couple of players.
"Everybody put out the effort. Greg (Carter) had a good mid-field presence, our two center backs played well and our forwards were really working hard, Clark (Phillips) and Conner in particular were all over the place pressing," Thorarinsson said.
Except for the SCU goal, neither team mounted many second-half chances until late in the half.
The Bulldogs, pressing for the tie, were denied by Jackson when Phillips took a pass from the end line to the right top of the 18 and fired a hard, chest-high shot that Phillips was able to knock down in traffic. Casey Ames went full extension for a header at the near post at 88:13 but did not seem to get a piece of the ball to direct it on goal.
The Bulldogs lost the services of Nate Pacheco 21 minutes into the match with what appeared to be a hamstring injury as he went down at mid-field near the sideline. He was replaced by freshman Dustin Ferger who has seen limited minutes this season. But he caught Thorarinsson's attention.
"Dustin came in and gave us some really good minutes. He gave us a lot of work in that center mid-field which we needed at that time. Conner (Bevans) got tired and they were playing the ball out through that area and he kind of disrupted that," Thorarinsson said of the product of Spokane's East Valley High School.
Despite being winless in the WCC, Thorarinsson said the morale is still good amongst his players.
"The guys are disappointed in losing, but the morale is good. They know if they keep working hard things will fall their way," Thorarinsson said.
But he also said this Santa Clara team is "as good as I've seen in a long time."
The Bulldogs have a bye week this week and return to action Oct. 24 when they face Saint Mary's College on the road to start the second half of WCC action. The trip concludes with a match at SCU Oct. 26.