NASHVILLE – On the strength of two second-half goals separated by just more than three minutes, the FGCU men’s soccer team (7-6-5) rolled past Northern Kentucky University (6-10-4) in a semifinal Atlantic Sun Conference Championship match Friday evening at Lipscomb University, 2-0. With the win, the No. 2-seeded Eagles advanced to the A-Sun Championship Final on Sunday against the 4th-seeded University of North Florida (8-6-1).
UNF ran past top-seeded and host Lipscomb, 3-0, in the second semifinal Friday, setting up a rematch for the title from last year’s A-Sun semifinal. The two sides will face off for the A-Sun Championship crown and automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament on Sunday at 1 p.m. Eastern (Noon local). The Ospreys defeated the Eagles at the FGCU Soccer Complex last year, 2-1, to end FGCU’s season, and the two sides played to a 2-2 tie earlier this year. The game will be broadcast on ESPN3.
Felipe DeSousa (Tampa, Fla./Wharton HS) scored the game-winning goal in the 56th minute off an assist from Santiago Echeverri (Medellin, Colombia./Celebration HS). Just 3:14 later it was Echeverri providing the insurance following a DeSousa shot which hit the post as the senior capped a dominant FGCU performance.
In net, goalkeeper Nathan Ingham (Keswick, Ontario/Keswick HS) continued his stalwart season as the redshirt junior earned his league-leading eighth shutout of the year – three more than anyone else in the A-Sun. Ingham needed to make just one save as his equally-impressive backline helped lower the netminder’s goals against average to 0.73 – by far the best in the conference and most likely inside the top-20 nationally when the updated stats are released Saturday.
The Eagles played with a man advantage for the final 76 minutes of the match after NKU’s Christian Johnson received a red card in the 14th minute. The Green and Blue ended up out-shooting the Norse, 24-6, including a 6-1 edge with shots on target. The two dozen shots are tied for the second most in program history as FGCU attempted 24 shots exactly three weeks ago in the aforementioned 2-2 tie against UNF.
“Tonight was a great result for us. I was really proud of the way the guys competed and thought we played well throughout the 90 minutes,” said head coach Bob Butehorn. “Our goal all year has been to get back to the A-Sun championship game, and now that we’re there we need to capitalize on the opportunity and finish the job.”
DeSousa scored his team-leading fifth goal of the season after a great build up from the FGCU attack. Making his fourth-straight start, freshman Kamar Marriott (Frisco, Texas/Frisco Heritage HS) played a long ball from the right side of the pitch perfectly onto Echeverri at the left side of the box. From there, Echeverri fed a ball through the box to a cutting DeSousa right around the top of the six-yard box and the lethal striker finished his program-record eighth game-winning goal with his left foot.
Using the momentum built from the opening strike, DeSousa had the ball come loose to him minutes later following a brief scramble at the top of the box, and he quickly fired a shot off the post, which came down right to Echeverri. The forward had his initial shot blocked before his second effort found its way to the back of the net to ensure the Eagles a return trip to the A-Sun final.
FGCU returns to the A-Sun Championship final for the third time in only four years of eligibility. The Eagles won both of their previous trips to the title game, defeating ETSU on its home pitch in 2011, 1-0, and then claiming a 1-0 triumph over Mercer in overtime the following year at the FGCU Soccer Complex. The Green and Blue is now 5-1 all-time in six A-Sun Championship games, and it will be looking to avenge its only loss on Sunday against UNF.
Thirteen of FGCU’s 24 shots came from DeSousa (seven) and Echeverri (six) as the seven shots from the second-half substitute DeSousa are tied for the second-most in a single game in program history.
Nationally, FGCU came into the contest with the nation’s 24th-ranked goals against average (0.77). FGCU continues to work on a near-record-setting defensive season. The Green and Blue has not allowed more than two goals in a game this season, and only one other time in the program’s history has that occurred (2010). That 2010 campaign concluded with a record 0.58 goals against average, a number FGCU could hit this season with a few more shutouts as its current average is the second-best in program history.
Looking closer at Ingham, he is now just one shutout shy of tying his own program record for single-season clean sheets with nine, set during the 2011 season as a freshman – the same year he was named A-Sun Tournament MVP. His 0.73 goals against average is currently tied for the fourth-best single season performance in A-Sun history, which for men’s soccer dates back to 1979. Additionally, Ingham moves within one shutout of tying the FGCU career record for clean sheets, which is currently 19 and held by 2011 graduate Adam Glick.
Sunday’s championship final will be available on ESPN3 and the Watch ESPN app. Live stats will also be available, in addition to updates throughout the contest on Twitter @FGCU_MSoccer. Admission to the game at the Lipscomb Soccer Complex is free for A-Sun students with school ID. Ticket prices for adult general admission are $15 for the championship game. Kids 12 and under are $5.
FGCU owns the longest home regular-season conference unbeaten streak in the nation. FGCU has not lost a home regular-season A-Sun game since 2008, a stretch of 26 in a row in which the Eagles are unbeaten (23-0-3). Included in that run is a 19-game winning streak, which was snapped in the second-to-last match last year when the Green and Blue tied Mercer, 0-0. FGCU’s last home regular-season A-Sun loss came to Jacksonville, 2-0, on Oct. 19, 2008 – an incredible stretch of 2,215 days.
FGCU has an incredible overall record of 32-4-3 in all A-Sun regular-season games since the start of the 2010 season. All four of those conference losses have come on the road, and out of a possible 117 points that could have been earned in that time, the Eagles have claimed an impressive 99 of them.
FGCU is led by Bob Butehorn, who has coached 38 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.
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.