Beating the same team three times in a season rarely happens in the game of soccer, yet the Lions have done the near-impossible. First, they defeated Azusa Pacific on a last-second goal in the first GSAC game, right after forfeiting six victories. Next, they defeated them in an old-fashioned beat down in the GSAC championship. And most recently and most importantly, the Lions won the opening round of the NAIA National Tournament.
The conference championship had a world of pressure on the team. They had to win the game to make the national tournament. But the Lions came out firing, ripping off three goals in the first half, coasting to a 3-0 win against the Cougars.
Led by GSAC Coach of the Year Randy Dodge and GSAC Player of the Year sophomore striker Kevin Cornwall, the 2010 Men’s Soccer team hosted the GSAC trophy, the first in program history.
The Vanguard faithful were in full support of their beloved team. The crowd was intense all game long, taking the APU fans out of the game early. Even with the game out of control in the first half, the crowd kept cheering and heckling the other team.
“In the end, there is nothing like running onto that field to meet players. In that moment, all that matters is the VU spirit and the heart of a lion,” senior Heather Hernandez said.
The game featured three amazing goals, all created by the team’s great teamwork. The first goal was a header by Cornwall off assists from juniors Kyle O’brien and Jack Plummer. The second goal was a chip by O’brien over the head of the APU keeper. The final and decisive goal was a laser from senior Tomislav Colic from 35 yards out.
“It feels awesome. It’s a great accomplishment and we all feel very proud to be the first team in history to accomplish this,” senior Ryan Kenney said. “But we couldn’t have done it without our fans.”
As the celebration began, one disappointment came from the final seconds of the game. With only 27 seconds left in the game, sophomore defender Mario Merdzic was given a red card, making him ineligible for the first round of the national tournament.
Then the news got even worse. The Lions had to play APU again in the opening round of the tournament. But this time, the Lions would be on the road playing at Azusa, largely because of the forfeited victories. If the Lions did not have had to give up those victories, they would have been 19-1 and been a top seed in the tournament.
“We were shocked more than anything. APU is a strong side, the toughest team in GSAC. We played them twice and won, but those games weren’t easy, so this time we were a little uneasy about playing them,” Cornwall said.
Halfway through the first half, at the 25-minute mark, the Lions surrendered the first goal of the game. From 15 yards out, senior keeper Trevor Herrera couldn’t stop the shot on the near post. Herrera had six saves in the match.
The Lions’ offense didn’t get on the scoreboard until late in the second half, but they stood resilient. The 82nd minute goal by Plummer was the equalizer in the match to force overtime.
This game played out much like the first match-up of the year, when the Lions trailed 2-0 in the first half before scoring three second-half goals, the latter two in the final five minutes of the contest.
In the first overtime, Cornwall proved his Player of the Year honors with a 97th-minute goal off a bicycle kick from Colic. The goal sealed the victory for the Lions.ns season would march on. During the later moments, the Lions played a smarter game and left the field with a victory for the second time this season.
The final goal was one of the greatest Vanguard soccer fans had ever seen.
“When it hit the net I thought ‘WOW’ we just won. I just fell to my knees in disbelief,” Cornwall said. “It was over, everything we were nervous about, that we practiced for, talked about for the past week, was over and we came out on top.”
The Lions will travel to Orange Beach, Alabama to compete at the Final Site for the National Tournament. They are scheduled to play Notre Dame of Ohio, who has a record of 20-0 after beating their opening round team by a score of 5-0.
“After that game, we are fully confident on taking on any team. We are super stoked about going to nationals and competing to win the national championship,” Cornwall said.
The game will be played Monday, Nov. 30 at 7:30 p.m eastern time.