DENVER – In a battle of top-15 nationally-ranked teams, the short-handed #15 FGCU men’s soccer team battled #3 Denver deep into the 2nd half before a pair of quick goals by the Pioneers gave the hosts a 3-1 win Friday night in the season opener for both teams.
FGCU – playing without the services of Albert Ruiz and Kamar Marriott because of injuries – received its goal in world-class form off the head of Nicolas Samayoa. That strike stood up for some time as the Eagles and Pioneers were knotted in a 1-1 draw with less than 20 minutes remaining before Denver put the game out of reach.
“We just weren’t as sharp or as crisp as we needed to be tonight,” said Jesse Cormier, who was coaching his first game with FGCU after 13 seasons as the head man at Vermont. “Nico’s finish was terrific and we did have a few other quality chances, but we made too many mistakes and Denver eventually capitalized. We need to tighten our play up and hopefully we can bounce back quickly Sunday.”
Denver struck first just nine minutes into the contest as Andre Shinyashiki finished with a one-timed volley off a cross over the top of the FGCU backline by Kyle Morlack to put the Pioneers up 1-0.
FGCU converted the equalizer shortly after as Samayoa (Guatemala City, Guatemala/Colegio Valle Verde) headed home just his fourth career goal in brilliant fashion. The ASUN Preseason Defensive Player of the Year made his run toward the near post, but received the corner kick from Dennis Zapata (Orlando, Fla./University HS) near the six-yard area and headed the ball back across the face of the goal mouth and perfectly into the opposite upper 90.
Just seconds after the Samayoa’s game-tying header, sophomore goalkeeper Jared Brown needed to make a point-blank save in a 1-on-1 situation to keep the match tied, and that’s exactly what he did. Brown (Aurora, Ontario/St. Maximilian Kolbe CHS) charged off his line as a Denver player got free and made a diving stop near the top of the 18.
From there, action remained mostly in the middle third of the pitch with few quality scoring chances either way the duration of the half as the two sides hit the halftime locker room with just four combined shots.
Action picked up in the 2nd half, and the Eagles had the better of the chances early on, beginning off a free kick by Samayoa in the 53rd minute. He rifled a service ball from just inside the midfield line which was deflected and required a diving save from Denver keeper Nick Gardner. The effort resulted in a rebound just in front of Gardner, but Shak Adams (Antioch, Tenn./Cane Ridge HS) had his shot stopped just moments later.
With about 20 minutes to play in regulation, the Green and Blue held a 4-1 edge in 2nd-half shots, but the Pioneers converted the go-ahead goal minutes later. Off a free kick into the top of the 18 by Dan Mooney, the ball got loose and was eventually settled by Blake Elder to finish just inside the near post in the 73rd minute.
The Pioneers added the insurance strike in the 78th minute directly off an FGCU turnover deep in its own end. Shinyashiki tallied his second goal of the night into a wide-open net to conclude the scoring.
Brown finished with three saves on the evening, including a pair of point-blank efforts to keep the score line closer. The Eagles concluded the match with five shots, while Denver had seven as the two sides were evenly matched for the most part as the Pioneers held just a 4-3 corner advantage.
Playing in the Mile High City, FGCU knew it would have to play one of its best games to get a result as Denver was coming off its first College Cup (NCAA semifinals) last year. With the win, Denver is now 41-1-2 in its last 44 matches at home and on an incredible 36-match regular-season unbeaten streak dating back to Halloween Night in 2014. Overall, the Pioneers are now 36-2-6 in the last 2+ years.
FGCU – the preseason ASUN favorites – were without the services of the nation’s leading returning scorer and MAC Hermann Watch List member Ruiz (Barcelona, Spain/UE Cornella/CE L’Hospitalet). The reigning ASUN Player of the Year was selected as the unanimous preseason choice to repeat this year. In addition to Ruiz (22 goals, 49 points in 2016), the Eagles were also without senior midfielder Marriott (Tampa, Fla./Heritage HS), who was tabbed to the ASUN Preseason All-Conference Team after landing on the First Team last year.
The Eagles entered the match ranked #15 in the College Soccer News Preseason Poll. Additionally, FGCU is ranked #22 in the Top Drawer Soccer Preseason Poll and #23 in the United Soccer Coaches Preseason Poll (formerly the NSCAA (National Soccer Coaches Association of America). While there are several prominent and respected national polls, the United Soccer Coaches is the only official poll the NCAA recognizes, and FGCU is the lone ASUN representative.
FGCU will remain in Colorado to face Air Force (14-7-1 in 2016) on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. Eastern (11:30 a.m. local). The Falcons opened their season earlier on Friday with a 1-0 win over Missouri State.
Air Force hosted Denver for an exhibition match last week, and the two sides played to a 1-1 draw. The Falcons return seven starters from a team that concluded the season at No. 79 in the RPI and just missed the NCAA Tournament after losing in the WAC Tournament Final.
NOTEWORTHY: Senior midfielder Miguel Jaime (Denver, Colo./Cherry Creek HS) made his Denver homecoming … he started and played 78 minutes … the game began approximately 45 minutes after its scheduled 9:30 p.m. local time start due to the Denver women’s game preceding the match going to double overtime … Dylan Sacramento (Winnipeg, Manitoba/York University/Bill Crothers S.S.) attempted a team-high-tying two shots along with Samayoa … Zapata’s assist was the seventh of the junior’s career … Denver was issued three yellow cards while FGCU received one.
For up-to-the minute information and a behind-the-scenes look at the FGCU men’s soccer program, follow on Twitter @FGCU_MSoccer, Instagram @FGCU_MSoccer, Facebook /FGCUMSoccer and YouTube /FGCUAthletics.
HEAD COACH JESSE CORMIER
Jesse Cormier was hired in January 2017 to become just the 2nd head coach in program history. The head coach at Vermont for the previous 13 seasons, Cormier won 14 games with the Catamounts in 2016 and advanced to the NCAA Tournament Second Round. During his time with Vermont, Cormier guided the program to the America East Tournament in 12 of 13 seasons, making five title game appearances, winning two tournament crowns, claiming a regular-season championship and advancing to three NCAA tournaments, including a pair of Second Round appearances. Cormier has a 114-90-47 (.548 winning percentage) overall record as a head coach.
SUPPORT THE CAUSE
FGCU Athletics sponsors events throughout the year to benefit the FGCU Campus Food Pantry (www.fgcu.edu/foodpantry) and the Harry Chapin Food Bank (www.harrychapinfoodbank.org), FGCU Athletics’ charities of choice. For more information, including how to make a contribution, please visit www.fgcu.edu/foodpantry and utilize the hashtag #FeedFGCU to help raise awareness.