JACKSONVILLE – For the fourth consecutive season, the FGCU men’s soccer team (8-6-2, 6-1-1 Atlantic Sun Conference) won the A-Sun regular-season championship, this time courtesy of a 2-1 victory over North Florida (6-6-3, 2-4-2 A-Sun) Saturday night in the regular-season finale.
FGCU knew entering the match it needed just a single point to claim the title outright, but took all three to become the first program in A-Sun history to win four straight regular-season crowns. A highlight-reel strike from Felipe DeSousa (Tampa, Fla./Wharton HS) in the first half put the Eagles in front, while a Henry Penagos (Margate, Fla./American Heritage School of Boca) second-half goal stood up as the game-winner.
The Eagles – who had earned the right to host the conference championship with a triumph last week over Jacksonville – begin their hosting duties Wednesday as seeds 3-6 will commence quarterfinal action. The No. 1-seeded Green and Blue will play in the semifinals at 7 p.m. Friday at the FGCU Soccer Complex against a to-be-determined opponent based on Wednesday’s results. Additional tournament information will be released on Sunday by league officials.
DeSousa gave the Eagles a 1-0 lead in the 37th minute as he streaked down the left side of the pitch nearest the FGCU bench. At the top corner of the box, he put a move on his defender to the inside before quickly sliding the ball back to his outside foot, his left one. With the UNF keeper charging and nearly no angle, the striker delivered a clinical shot, curving the ball from left to right around the goalie, banging it off inside of the left post and into the back of the net. The goal was his team-leading sixth of the campaign, but first since Sept. 27 at Penn.
FGCU carried that 1-0 edge into the halftime break, but an own goal within the first four minutes of the second stanza tied the match at 1-1. However, the Eagles were quick to respond as Penagos continued his flair for the dramatic this year with his team-best third game-winning goal in the 51st minute.
Isaiah Madrid (Albuquerque, N.M./El Dorado HS) started the play by serving a long ball over the UNF backline and onto Penagos, who settled the ball with his first touch and then chipped it into the side netting. The finish was Penagos’s fifth of the year as the redshirt junior now has eight goals dating back to last season and has been a part of all four regular-season titles.
“It was a well-managed game by us,” head coach Bob Butehorn surmised. “We gave up a soft goal and they missed a penalty earlier in the half, but after that we took control the rest of the way. It was just a good, well-managed game from then on.”
The victory over the Ospreys continued FGCU’s dominance of its in-state foe as the Eagles have now won all seven all-time meetings versus UNF. They’ve done so in commanding fashion as well as the seven victories have come by a combined margin of 25-3.
The Green and Blue now has a 28-3-2 record in A-Sun games since the start of the 2010 season. All three of its conference losses have come on the road, and out of a possible 99 points that could have been earned in that time, the Eagles have claimed an impressive 86 of them (86.9 percent).
With the exception of the own goal, FGCU keeper Danny George (Safety Harbor, Fla./Countryside HS) made four saves en route to his eighth victory of the campaign. For the game, the Eagles out-shot the Ospreys, 12-10, while each side attempted six corners.
After starting the season 0-5-1, the young Eagles – who do not have a senior on the roster – went 8-1-1 over their final 10 games. During that span FGCU out-scored its opponents 14-6, including 12-4 in A-Sun action.
“It’s a little surprising in some ways,” Butehorn said in reference to winning the regular season without having a senior on the roster. “It shows a lot about the guys and character we have in the program. There were some things throughout the year that could have been a distraction, but we matured at the right time.”
FGCU is now just three wins from laying claim to the A-Sun men’s and women’s soccer regular-season and postseason championships for the third straight year. Currently, FGCU is the only school in the nation that can boast that claim from each of the past two seasons. The women host their championship match at The Nest Sunday afternoon at 1.
Wednesday’s men’s quarterfinal games and Friday’s semifinal games will be streamed for free on ASun.TV, while Sunday’s 1 p.m. championship match will air live on ESPN3. FGCU will have a chance to continue its home invincibility against conference opponents as it has gone unbeaten in 25 straight home matches against A-Sun members. That stretch spans more than five years, dating back to a 2-0 setback against Jacksonville on Oct. 19, 2008.
More information, including a championship bracket, will be posted on FGCUAthletics.com and AtlanticSun.org on Sunday. For up-to-the-minute information, follow the program on Twitter @FGCU_MSoccer.