SPARTANBURG, S.C. – On the strength of four second-half goals and a record-tying performance from goalkeeper Nathan Ingham, the No. 22 FGCU men’s soccer team (6-3-3, 4-0-1 A-Sun) earned at least a share of an unprecedented sixth-straight Atlantic Sun Conference regular-season title Saturday night with a 4-0 shutout of USC Upstate (5-5-1, 1-2-1 A-Sun) on the Spartans’ Senior Night.
Ingham (Keswick, Ontario/Keswick) recorded his league-leading sixth shutout of the year and his 25th career clean sheet, tying the all-time A-Sun record. Ingham, the reigning A-Sun Defensive Player of the Week, and his always stout backline locked down on the nation’s leading scorer in USC Upstate’s Gordon Wild as the Eagles have now shut out the Spartans an incredible seven times in a row.
Albert Ruiz was credited with the game winner on a penalty kick, but the most clinical finish of the evening came off the foot of junior David Robledo who put FGCU up 2-0 with his first career goal. Skylar Wilks put the game out of reach with an 87th-minute strike, while Ruiz added another tally with only 15 seconds remaining.
The +4 goal differential will end up serving FGCU extremely well as the first applicable tiebreaker should the Eagles and North Florida finish tied atop the A-Sun standings is goal differential in league games. FGCU is currently +14 in that category, while UNF is +6.
UNF defeated Jacksonville Saturday night, 1-0, as the Ospreys (3-0-1 A-Sun) are the only team that can match FGCU’s 13 points. While FGCU’s A-Sun schedule is complete, UNF hosts USC Upstate next Saturday. Should the Ospreys win, FGCU and UNF will share the regular-season crown as the two sides played to a 1-1 draw in Jacksonville earlier this year – the only A-Sun goal either team has given up all season.
Anything other than an Ospreys’ win will clinch the title for FGCU outright and subsequent No. 1 seed in the conference tournament, meaning the Eagles would play on their home pitch throughout the postseason provided they do not lose. If UNF is victories, the Ospreys will need to beat the Spartans by at least eight goals to make up the goal differential they currently face with FGCU. If that does not occur, FGCU will receive the No. 1 seed.
“Overall it was a great general team effort all the way around, and the guys who came off the bench played great as well,” said FGCU head coach Bob Butehorn of his team’s victory. “We’ve put ourselves in a good position for homefield advantage during the tournament, which is something we’re looking forward to and drawing some good crowds as going to Nashville last year wasn’t much fun.”
FGCU – which only joined the A-Sun in its first Division-I season in 2007 – was the only school in the history of the league, which dates back to 1979, to have won at least five-straight regular-season titles before this year and now have extended that run to an incredible six in a row.
FGCU controlled the pace of play and majority of possession in the first half. The Eagles put three shots on frame – all of which were saved by Hassan Haddad – from minutes 23 to 28, and with the exception of a late flurry in the final minute by USC Upstate, Ingham was rarely tested.
In the second half, the Spartans began with the better of the play as they attempted a pair of corners and three shots – one which was stopped by Ingham – in the first seven minutes of the stanza. However, from there FGCU flexed its conference-leading offense and defense in A-Sun games and poured on the attack.
In the 64th minute, sophomore Miguel Jaime (Denver, Colo./Cherry Creek HS) was taken down in the box, allowing FGCU’s penalty kick specialist Ruiz (Barcelona, Spain/UE Cornella/CE L’Hospitalet) to step up and give the Eagles a lead. Ruiz calmly and deliberately deposited his fifth PK of the year and in the process the sophomore set the program’s career record for PKs made as it was previously four. Ruiz has now converted a PK in four of the last five games.
The goal which appeared to be the insurance strike came just four minutes later on a perfectly-executed throw-in. The play started with Luis Vega (Guatemala City, Guatemala/Montverde Academy) throwing the ball into the box to Ruiz, who was coming back to the ball and allowed it to take one bounce before heading it to his right to Robledo (Dallas, Texas/Hillcrest HS). Robledo, running toward the goal, made a perfect strike with a volley, not allowing the ball to hit the ground after Ruiz headed it, and deposited it under the crossbar from about 16 yards out.
Wilks (Tampa, Fla./Newsome HS) scored his third goal of the year in relatively easy fashion after a brilliant thru ball by Jaime set him up 1 v. 1 against Hassan. Jaime played a great ball with the outside of his left foot from the middle of the pitch up the left side which was controlled by Wilks’ chest. Wilks took a couple of touches and sent a low shot from about 18 yards out past the out-stretched right arm of a charging Hassan as the former defender continued his offensive production as a forward for Butehorn.
The final tally of the evening came off the head of Ruiz into the upper 90 in the 90th minute, but it was set up in great form again, this time by Wilks and Kamar Marriott (Tampa, Fla./Heritage HS). Marriott played a ball from the middle of the pitch out wide to Wilks, who perfectly curved a left-footed cross onto a cutting Ruiz about 10 yards out.
Ruiz finished the evening with five points off two goals an assist, setting his personal best, tying for the third-most in FGCU history and tying for the most by any player in the A-Sun this year. That mark was previously held alone by Wild, who entered the contest averaging a nation-high 1.4 goals per game. However, Ingham and the FGCU backline kept him and his teammates – who collectively had the seventh-highest scoring offense in the country – off the scoreboard.
“Nate will be the first one to tell you that he had a lot of help from his backline in this one, but he did need to make a couple tough saves,” Butehorn added of his elite keeper. “Over the course of his 4+ years he’s had a lot of great guys in front of him, but make no mistake he’s a great keeper and comes up with big, important saves when needed. He’s done something really special by tying the record, and he brought the entire team in after the game to thank them. That says everything you need to know about him.”
Ingham, who made four saves – including an extremely difficult one in the second half off a Wild shot which was defected and required him to reach back across his body – lowered his goals against average on the year to 0.49. He entered the contest with the nation’s 13th-best mark at 0.54. Ingham is on pace to shatter the A-Sun single-season record for goals-against average as the current mark is 0.61 held by Centenary’s Damin Hill in 1987.
Ingham is now tied with ETSU’s Ryan Coulter (2011-13) atop the career A-Sun shutout list. Ingham is also now just ahead of Coulter for the conference’s best career goals against average at 0.94 as Coulter’s mark was 0.95. A-Sun history dates back to 1979.
The shutout continues FGCU’s dominance over the Spartans as the Eagles have never lost to USC Upstate, now going 8-0-1 in nine all-time meetings. Eight of the nine matches have ended in clean sheets for the Eagles, with the lone exception being a 2-2 tie in 2008. Outside of that match, FGCU has out-scored Upstate, 17-0.
FGCU also extended its record in all A-Sun regular-season games since the start of the 2010 season to an emphatic 36-4-4. All four of those losses have come on the road, and out of a possible 132 points that could have been earned in that time, the Eagles have claimed an impressive 112 of them. Despite the dominance, 2015 marks the first season since 2010 that the Eagles have gone without a loss in conference play as the Green and Blue had dropped just one match a year each of the past four campaigns.
FGCU concludes its regular season with another important non-conference contest at UNC Wilmington (8-4-2) next Saturday, Oct. 31, at 7 p.m. UNCW is receiving votes in the national polls and present another top-30 non-league RPI opponent for the Eagles.
If FGCU does earn the No. 1 seed in the A-Sun Championship, the game pitting the No. 4 seed against the No. 5 seed will take place at the FGCU Soccer Complex, and two days later the Eagles will host the winner of that game. Because the FGCU women’s soccer team clinched the No. 1 seed outright Saturday night, the dates of the men’s tournament will shift slightly if the Eagles do in fact secure the No. 1 seed.
If that aforementioned scenario plays out (FGCU men and FGCU women both have No. 1 seeds), the men’s 4/5 game will be played on Thursday, Nov. 5, with the semifinal featuring FGCU and that winner being contested on Saturday, Nov. 7. The women’s semifinals will be played Friday, Nov. 6, and the final will take place Sunday, Nov. 8. The men’s final will be at the highest remaining seed Saturday, Nov. 14. The other men’s semifinal will take place at the No. 2 seed versus the No. 3 seed on Saturday, Nov. 7.
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.
FGCU is led by Bob Butehorn, who has coached 45 A-Sun All-Conference selections since FGCU started its program in 2007. In just four years of postseason eligibility, Butehorn has guided FGCU to three A-Sun Tournament championships and NCAA Tournament appearances – in 2011, 2012 and 2014 – and has won an unprecedented six-straight A-Sun regular-season championships. His teams have been ranked nationally on several occasions by multiple media outlets. Now in his 13th season as a head coach, Butehorn has a 114-90-25 (.552) overall record, 80-58-21 (.569) mark in his 9th season at FGCU and 48-17-6 (.718) record in A-Sun contests.
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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.