Westmont Men’s Soccer (0-1) competed in their first countable match of 2022 on Friday night when they took on the Azusa Pacific Cougars (2-0-1) in southern California. The Cougars opened the scoring with a goal in the first-ten minutes, but the Warriors were granted an equalizer partway through the second half.
After 90 minutes of play, Westmont’s opening match ended in a 1-1 tie.
“Even before the equalizer, we felt like there was an uptick,” said Westmont head coach Dave Wolf. “There was an uptick tonight in our forward-playing mentality. There were a bunch of guys who joined in as we went and that was great to see.
“It would’ve been tough to convince the guys that they grew tonight if we dropped this result. We’ve been having the same conversation over and over about growing although it doesn’t look or feel like we are. Tonight, however, we most definitely took a step in the right direction.”
During the first ten minutes of action, the Cougars caused consistent traffic in and around the Warriors’ 18. In the first five minutes, Azusa Pacific had two legitimate opportunities and even challenged Westmont keeper Brady immediately.
The Cougar’s first on-goal attempt came in the fifth minute, off the foot of Jesse Echeverrria, but Highfill was able to get his hands on it to collect his first save of the season.
Westmont would not be so fortunate on APU’s second shot of the match.
In the 10th minute, Cougars’ striker Luis Solis received a pass from 25 yards out and was the final player to touch the ball before the game’s first goal was scored. Solis dribbled around Westmont’s first challenger, then three more stood in his way. Rather than try and beat all three, Solis took a touch to his left, and saw a lane in-between the three men.
From there, about 15 yards out, Solis fired with his left foot and snuck his shot just under the reach of Highfill and inside the left post for the 1-0 lead.
Play slowed down as the first half got going, with only two more shots on goal occurring before the halftime whistle. One of those shots belonged to Westmont’s Aldo Becerril, who recorded the club’s first on-goal attempt of the season. APU keeper Leo Moreno was able to smother the shot however, thwarting the Warriors’ lone attempt to score in the first-45 minutes.
In the second half, Westmont looked like a completely different club, in terms of both physicality and skill. The Warriors did not back down from their counterpart, and instead came out with a different level of energy that led to several scoring opportunities.
Still, while the Warriors had opportunities in and around the box, they were unable to muster a quality attempt on goal for the first chunk of the second half.
Then, in the 68th minute, Westmont came within inches of knotting the score. Connor Lynch made a run from outside the 18 and was sent an over-the-top through ball that guided him to the six-yard box. In a foot race, both Lynch and Moreno dashed towards the ball, vying for the initial touch.
Lynch got to the ball first, and tapped it over the reach of Moreno. However, the Cougars breathed a sigh of relief when they saw that Lynch’s shot soared inches wide of the far post.
Westmont squandered the best scoring chance they had created all night, but fortunately for the Warriors, it was the Cougars that provided an even better one.
In the 70th minute, the Warriors were putting high pressure on the Cougars, who, up until that point, had comfortably possessed the ball in their own third of the field.
All it took was one Cougar to be unaware of their surroundings to open the door for the Warriors, and that Cougar turned out to be Solis, APU’s previous goal-scorer. Twenty-five yards from the goal line, Solis was one of several Cougars to pass the ball further into their own third of the pitch, and in his case, he elected to roll the ball all the way back to Moreno.
What Solis did not notice was the fact that Michael Stull was directly between the two Cougars. Stull did not even have to intercept the pass as one typically would. Instead, he followed the ball directly to the 18, as he was the only man within five yards of the ball when Solis touched it.
The errant pass turned into a 50-50 ball between Moreno and Stull, and on this occasion, it was Stull who was able to take advantage of the miscue and poke it over the APU keeper to the back of the net for the equalizer.
“The harder you work, the luckier you get,” grinned Wolf. “When you’re struggling to create chances you get to the point where you’ll take just about anything, and that was just about anything. Those kinds of goals can be catalytic moments, where things change.”
In the final twenty minutes of play, both sides were able to put a pair of shots on frame, but neither could penetrate the back of the net. After 90 minutes, the Warriors and Cougars officially ended things in a 1-1- tie.
“We were able to create three or four really dangerous chances in the end,” shared Wolf. “Aldo Becerril showed a ton of quality by creating an opportunity for Erik Guerrero in the final moments of that game. To me, as awkward as the goal was, we created a lot of really high-class opportunities as well.”
While the Warriors were frustrated with their inability to pull out the win, Wolf made sure the men knew they made several strides in the contest.
“Scrapping out the draw gives our post-game messaging a lot more validity,” reflected Wolf. “It was really nice to have that positive conversation at the end of the game. Tonight we took a step forward, and everyone could see that we did.”
“This team is no longer going to sneak up on anybody. We’re going to have to deal with some adjustments from folks who maybe weren’t expecting us to be as challenging as we might turn out to be.”
Westmont returns to the pitch on Wednesday at 12:30 p.m., when they host Whittier in the Warriors’ home-opener.
Jacob Norling is the sports information assistant at Westmont College.