HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. – On the strength of a late first-half goal from freshman Albert Ruiz and early second-half strikes from Henry Penagos and Rodrigo Saravia, the FGCU men’s soccer team (4-4-3, 3-0-0 Atlantic Sun Conference) dominated host Northern Kentucky University (2-5-4, 0-1-1 A-Sun) Saturday night as the Eagles cruised to a 3-1 win to remain firmly atop the A-Sun standings.
The three goals are tied for a season high for FGCU as the Green and Blue also netted three in their A-Sun opener against Jacksonville. Through three league games in which it has outscored its opponents 7-2, FGCU has claimed all nine of the possible points and are three points clear of second place Stetson and North Florida.
Ruiz’s (Barcelona, Spain/UE Cornella/CE L’Hospitalet) first collegiate goal came on an assist from Aaron Guillen (El Paso, Texas/Coronado HS) as the defender sent a long ball over the top of the NKU defense in the 37th minute. Ruiz brought the ball down inside the box with his right foot, took one more touch with his right foot to create separation from the Norse defender and then beat goalkeeper A.J. Fleak with a perfectly-placed right-footed shot inside the right netting.
Penagos (Margate, Fla./American Heritage School of Boca/Delray) converted a penalty kick against the Norse for the second-straight year as he finished FGCU’s second goal of the contest in the 49th minute with a well-positioned strike just inside the left post. Saravia (Guatemala City, Guatemala/College Internacional Montessori) was fouled as he was dribbling just inside the box, setting up Penagos’s second goal of the season – just the second FGCU player with multiple goals on the campaign (Felipe DeSousa, 4).
The final strike of the night came in the 56th minute when Saravia created space near the top of the box and curved a perfect shot inside the right net from about 20 yards. The effort from the A-Sun Preseason Co-Player of the Year chased Fleak, the A-Sun Preseason Goalkeeper of the Year, from the contest. It marked the first time this year that Fleak did not play every minute of a game.
FGCU goalkeeper Nathan Ingham (Keswick, Ontario/Keswick HS) made several huge stops throughout the night and looked poised to earn his league-leading fifth shutout of the season, but NKU scored off a corner kick in the 78th minute to spoil the redshirt junior’s efforts. FGCU headed out the original service to the top of the box, but Cian McDonald fired a one-timed effort in the unsettled situation to the left of a diving Ingham.
“Our guys managed the game really well for about 75 minutes. We need to do just a little better job at the end to ensure we don’t give up any chances, but overall I’m pleased with the performance,” said head coach Bob Butehorn. “We showed a lot of maturity and executed a good game plan and we reserved the win. Nate also came up with some big saves which kept us in the game early and prevented NKU from getting back into the game late.”
The win extended one of the most impressive streaks in Division-I soccer as FGCU now boasts an incredible record of 31-3-2 in A-Sun regular-season games since the start of the 2010 season. All three of those conference losses have come on the road, and out of a possible 108 points that could have been earned in that time, the Eagles have claimed an impressive 95 of them.
FGCU entered the contest with one of the nation’s best defensive units as the Eagles ranked 25th in the country with a goals-against average of 0.65 – easily the best in the A-Sun. Ingham made several important stops as he closed the contest with nine saves, tied for his career high and tied for the second-most in a single game in FGCU program history. Looking closer at the goals FGCU has allowed this year, only two of the eight have come in the regular run of play. The other six have come in the form of an own goal, penalty kick, set-piece strike and three corners.
As it has since the start of A-Sun action, FGCU began the game in a 4-3-3 formation with Ruiz, Santiago Echeverri (Medellin, Colombia./Celebration HS) and Penagos as the forwards. In the only two previous meetings between FGCU and NKU, the Eagles had scored two goals and both had come off the foot of Penagos.
After a few minutes of back-and-forth action to start the game, FGCU really started to settle in and take control of the possession game about 10 minutes into the contest. From there, the Eagles maintained the pace of play for the rest of the half en route to a 5-3 shot advantage at the break and the 1-0 lead before breaking out early in the second stanza.
FGCU will remain in the state of Kentucky to face another challenging non-conference opponent as the Eagles will battle No. 18 Louisville on Tuesday, Oct. 14, at 7:30 p.m. The Cardinals (5-3-1) were ranked No. 6 in the country last week and are currently 34th in the RPI. FGCU will next be in action at home on Tuesday, Oct. 21, for a non-conference tilt with FAU at 7 p.m.
GAME NOTES: FGCU now leads the all-time series, 2-0-1, as NKU joined the A-Sun in 2012 … NKU was predicted to finish third in the A-Sun Preseason Poll as the Norse received a first-place vote … Ingham also made nine stops earlier this year against Washington.
For men’s soccer ticket information, visit the Alico Arena Ticket Office, call 239-590-7145 or log on to FGCUAthletics.com/Tickets. For up-to-the minute information and a behind-the-scenes look at the program, follow on Twitter @FGCU_MSoccer and Instagram @FGCU_MSoccer.
FGCU is led by Bob Butehorn, who has coached 30 A-Sun All-Conference selections since FGCU started its program in 2007. In just three years of postseason eligibility, Butehorn has guided FGCU to the NCAA Tournament twice – in 2011 and 2012 – and has won an unprecedented four-straight A-Sun regular-season championships. His teams have been ranked nationally on several occasions by multiple media outlets, and in 2013 he won his 100th career game.