ACU drops Lopes to 5th place in SSC with shutout
By: Jim Howell/GCU Club Sports Information Director
The downside of ‘high-percentage finishing’.
Unable to turn several first-half trips to Arizona Christian University’s box into goals (or even shots on goal), the Grand Canyon University Men’s Club Soccer White team lost significant playoff ground in a 4-0 loss to ACU Tuesday night at Prescott Field on the GCU campus. It was GCU White’s fifth consecutive loss. It also helped ACU not only salvage a split of the season series with the Lopes, but moved them a game ahead of GCU in the Southwest Soccer Conference standings heading into the final weekend of regular season play.
“We’ve been working with them on a concept called ‘high-percentage finishing’, and it just didn’t exist tonight,” said Lopes’ Head Coach Lance Thompson. “This group is still learning our attacking strategies, so it’s going to take them a little more time. We’re new, we’re young, and we’ll improve.”
The majority of the first-half action was spent on the ACU side of the field. Despite spending much of that time on the attack, the Lopes’ offense didn’t register a shot on goal for the first 20 minutes of the match. While the Firestorm defense was effective in sagging back towards their goal, the Lopes’ inability to officially bother ACU goalkeeper Evan Sprague was much of their own doing.
The Firestorm turned the action in the other direction late in the first half, piercing the middle of the Lopes’ backline twice for goals in a five-minute span. ACU’s Adrian Mitroi rolled a centering ball past two GCU defenders to Austin Crable, who cashed it in the 34th minute to break the scoreless tie. Crable then found a seam in the middle of the field in the 38th minute, received a perfect centering pass from Elijah Olander, and headed it past GCU goalkeeper Ben Ogan to stake the Firestorm to a 2-0 halftime lead.
“On the opposite end, there are some defensive concepts we haven’t mastered yet, and we paid the price for that,” said Thompson. “The great thing is that I can ask them questions about the problems faced, and if they respond appropriately, at least I know they understand, and just have to get better at it. That was the case – they knew the answer, but they couldn’t execute it.”
Once they seized the momentum, the Firestorm offense kept the Lopes’ defense on its heels, adding a Christian Lima goal seven minutes into the second half to put the game out of reach. The Lopes’ offense mustered just three shots on goal after halftime, and were outshot for the game, 13-7.
GCU, ACU, the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University entered the night separated by two games in the race for the final three playoff berths. So while Tuesday’s loss drops GCU White (4-8 overall, 3-6 SSC) into the fifth and final playoff spot for the moment, Thompson sees an advantage schedule-wise for the Lopes against the other teams in the conference logjam
“We stay in-state for our final games, while ACU has to go to Flagstaff, and NAU still has to play games in New Mexico,” Thompson said about the upcoming final regular season weekend. “There’s still a lot left to unfold here. We didn’t do ourselves any favors tonight, and we really need to take care of business on Sunday, but we’re still in the hunt.”
Waiting to host GCU White in their regular season finale Sunday afternoon in Tucson is third-place University of Arizona. Meanwhile, GCU Purple – who remains on top of the conference with a 7-0-1 mark, and is in the driver’s seat for an automatic bid to regionals – also winds up their regular season away from home against second-place Arizona State University Thursday at the ASU West Campus in Glendale. GCU Purple’s final game Sunday at the University of Texas-El Paso has been ruled a forfeit win for the Lopes after UTEP was removed from the league a week ago.