DENVER – Playing short-handed again, the #15 FGCU men’s soccer team battled but came up just short as the Eagles (0-2) completed their season-opening weekend in Colorado with a 3-2 setback at Air Force (2-0) on Sunday afternoon.
FGCU received its goals from Robert Ferrer and Dennis Zapata in the 27th and 86th minutes, respectively, to trim its deficit to just a single goal each time, but the Eagles could not convert the equalizer.
FGCU – playing without the services of preseason ASUN all-conference selections Albert Ruiz (Player of the Year), Nicolas Samayoa (Defensive Player of the Year) and Kamar Marriott (All-Conference Team) – quickly went down 2-0 following Air Force goals in the 10th and 17th minutes.
The Falcons opened the scoring with a goal from Tucker Bone following a set-piece service into the box which was headed down by FGCU. However, Bone – with his back nearly completely facing the goal and his body moving away from the net – was able to volley the ball from just inside the 18 back across the goal mouth and inside the far post. Air Force then orchestrated its second goal along the FGCU end line, and Klint Parker finished a one-timed effort from just in front of the net and inside the near post.
The hosts nearly made it a 3-0 contest minutes later, but FGCU starting keeper Connor Gavigan made a great save to keep the Eagles within striking distance at that time. The Colorado native Gavigan (Aurora, Colo./Creighton/Grandview HS) came off his line and punched a close shot beyond the outside of the right post.
The Eagles trimmed their deficit in half in the 27th minute when Jiro Barriga Toyama (Chiba, Japan/Barton CC/Chibakennrituoihama HS) made a run down the left side of the pitch before delivering a left-footed cross into the middle of the box. His effort perfectly found the run of Ferrer (Barcelona, Spain/Brevard College/IES Calamot), who one-timed his sixth career goal (fourth with FGCU) into the back of the net.
Air Force extended back to a two-goal lead in the early stages of the 2nd half. Gavigan – making his first collegiate action – made the initial lunging save on a Trey Pujats shot, but the ball bounded into the air and directly on to the head of Parker, who headed home his second goal of the afternoon into a wide open net.
The Eagles tried to make a late push when Miguel Perez (Weston, Fla./Cypress Bay HS) sent a left-footed, curving cross into the box and directly on to the run of Zapata (Orlando, Fla./University HS). Zapata deftly one-touched and re-directed the ball to make it a 3-2 game, but the Eagles could get no closer.
“We are missing some key guys right now, but I know we can be successful without them as long as we do a better job collectively of competing and playing intelligently,” commented FGCU head coach Jesse Cormier. “I thought Robert (Ferrer) and TC Anderson demonstrated those skills today, but we need to get it across the board. When we play intelligently and away from pressure we’ve seen it can result in goals, but we need to make wiser choices with the ball because that’s where teams are punishing us right now for our mistakes.”
FGCU – the preseason ASUN favorites – were without the nation’s leading returning scorer (22g, 49p) and MAC Hermann Watch List member Ruiz (Barcelona, Spain/UE Cornella/CE L’Hospitalet) for the second-straight game due to an injury. Senior midfielder Marriott (Tampa, Fla./Heritage HS), who was an ASUN First Team member last year, also missed his second-consecutive game with an injury. Samayoa (Guatemala City, Guatemala/Colegio Valle Verde), who scored FGCU’s lone goal in a 3-1 loss to #3 Denver on Friday, was unavailable due to an illness.
Gavigan finished with three saves in his collegiate debut after a redshirt season at Creighton last year. The Falcons put six shots on target, while FGCU had five.
The Eagles entered the match ranked #15 in the College Soccer News Preseason Poll. Additionally, FGCU checked in at #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.
Despite the 0-2 start to the season, FGCU can look back to just a year ago for motivation to quickly turn things around. The Eagles began the 2016 campaign 0-2-1 before rattling off a program- and nation-best 10-straight wins en route to a 14-4-3 overall record and NCAA Tournament Second Round appearance.
From Colorado, the Eagles will return to Florida for a few days before flocking to the Northeast for a pair of games as part of Vermont’s Peter Baldwin Memorial Classic. FGCU will take on the host Catamounts (Sept. 1, 7 p.m.) before opposing Central Connecticut State (Sept. 3, 11:30 a.m.).
The matchup with Vermont – where Cormier graduated from in 1995 and served as the head coach for the previous 13 seasons – will conclude a challenging opening three-game stretch for FGCU as the Catamounts finished with an RPI of No. 29. Denver, Air Force and Vermont combined to go 48-15-5 last year and win four NCAA Tournament contests. FGCU led the nation in points last year with 179, Air Force was 4th (133), Denver was 5th (128) and Vermont was 8th (120).
NOTEWORTHY: Freshman Chris Clement (Mallorca, Spain/Lycee Francais de Palma) started and made his first collegiate appearance … it was the first meeting between the two teams … the match started at 11:30 a.m. local (Mountain) time.
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 114-91-47 (.546 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.