Men's Soccer Faces Must-Win Sunday For Shot At NCAA Berth
SPOKANE, Wash. – Win or stay home.
That’s probably the scenario facing Gonzaga University’s men’s soccer team in the home season finale Sunday against Saint Mary’s College after dropping a disheartening 1-0 decision to the University of San Francisco Friday that jolted the Bulldogs hopes of an at-large bid.
The Bulldogs (9-6-3; 4-4-3) will kickoff against the Gaels at noon at Gonzaga Soccer Field. The NCAA bids will be announced Monday morning at 9 a.m. Pacific Time live on NCAA.com.
USF got the lone goal of the match at 17:08 when Liam Kelly’s shot from the right flank to the opposite post was out of the reach of out-stretched Gonzaga keeper Ryan Caballero. Mauricio Diaz De Leon dribbled deep down the left side and fed a cross to Kelly on the right flank. Kelly had time to set himself, take a couple of dribbles and put the shot to the far side.
But there were some anxious moments in the closing minutes.
The best chance for the Bulldogs came at 81:15 when Gonzaga’s Clark Phillips was tripped in the box for a penalty kick. Lars Ludwigs took the PK and went low and right, but USF keeper Chase Hauser guessed correctly and made a diving save at the post.
Gonzaga was pressing again in the final seconds when Josh Phillips took a pass, dribbled down the left flank and set a ball to the right side just out of the reach of Conner Bevans who would have had nothing but an empty net to re-direct the ball into.
The loss was especially disappointing because of what is at stake.
“It was disappointing all around. We put the effort into it, maybe not smart effort all the time, but effort nonetheless,” head coach Einar Thorarinsson said of the match played on a cold, blustery day with a steady rain falling throughout the match.
The 19-year Bulldog coach, trying to get the Bulldogs to the NCAA Championship for the third time, said the Bulldogs must win and hope Sunday.
“Try to win and hope the committee will consider us,” Thorarinsson stated matter-of-factly of what the team must do to bounce back Sunday to keep its at-large aspirations alive.
The Bulldogs got a solid performance from Jakob Granlund who was back in the line-up after missing both matches a week ago with an injury, and defender Josh Phillips, who returned to action last Sunday after missing one match with a slight groin pull, was at his usual best against the Dons Friday.
“Jakob made a difference in the first half, but kind of disappeared in the second half. Alec Cutter had a great game and had some opportunities,” Thorarinsson said.
Both teams came out firing early, Conner Bevans with a couple of good chances in the opening minutes. The first came in the third minute when he took a right-to-left cross from Granlund but could not make solid contact with the ball. He got a foot on it but it bounced right to USF keeper Chase Hauser for one of his 10 saves as Gonzaga out-shot the Dons 22-10.
A minute later Bevans again had another shot that Hauser tipped away high over the net.
Phillips kept the Dons from getting on the board early, clearing Vegard Karlsen’s shot out of the 6 in the eighth minute.
Gonzaga had the better of the chances in the second half.
Early in the half Zach Hamer had a shot from inside the top of the 18 that Hauser made a diving save to his left as the ball trickled off his hand and out of bounds for a Gonzaga corner. In the 60th minute Clark Phillips made a nifty drop pass to Nick Hamer and Hauser made the catch save on the one-timer. In the 62nd minute it was Hauser denying Granlund at the post on a shot from the right wing.
Saint Mary’s, with a Friday night game at the University of Portland, has a chance to move ahead of Gonzaga for third place with a victory, the Zags holding a 15-14 edge in points. Regardless of Friday’s outcome in Portland, Sunday’s Gonzaga-Saint Mary’s showdown will be for third place in the WCC. USF could still tie the Zags for third if SMC loses to Portland, ties Gonzaga and USF wins at Portland Sunday. That would tie Gonzaga and USF with 16 points. It could be a three-way tie for third if SMC and Portland tie Friday, Gonzaga and SMC tie Sunday and USF beats Portland Sunday, leaving Gonzaga, USF and SMC with 16 points each.
Gonzaga will honor its seniors Sunday in pre-match ceremonies. Playing their final home match for the Bulldogs will be Caballero, Josh Phillips, Greg Carter, Andrew Owenson, Nick Hamer, Alec Cutter and Nikolai Littleton, the latter suffering a season-ending knee injury earlier this season.