Despite freezing conditions at the Gonzaga Soccer Stadium, the men's soccer team put together a scintillating performance against the USD Toreros. The Zags put together their best performance of the season, and cruised to a 4-1 victory. This win moves the team into a tie for 2nd place with USF in the WCC, and puts them only two points behind the Toreros for 1st place. While it is still a little early to speculate, should the team end the season with wins over LMU and St. Mary's, a berth in the NCAA Tournament would be likely.
The fans who braved the pouring rain were treated to Gonzaga soccer at its finest. As has been the case throughout the season, it was Tye Perdido who opened the scoring in the 18th minute. A beautiful cross from Collin Harison found the open Perdido (right) in the middle of the box, and he made no mistake as he drilled the ball past the goalie. However, the lead was short lived, as the Toreros answered only 33 seconds later. A shot from 25 yards out by Andrew Feld was able to sneak in to the goal, as the slippery playing field appeared to effect both the defender and the goalie. This goal would be the lone bright spot of the game for USD, as Gonzaga dominated the rest of the game.
It appeared as the game might be tied at halftime, as GU was doing everything on the offensive end except putting the ball in the goal. However, in the 35th minute the deadlock was broken by a terrific Bryan Mullaney goal. After a nice buildup up by the midfield, Conor Baranski ripped a shot from outside the box. While the USD goalkeeper was able to block the ball, it deflected directly into the path of Mullaney who made no mistake with the shot. With the goal, the Zags headed into halftime with a 2-1 lead.
The start of the 2nd half saw the Bulldogs elevate their game to even a higher level. After just five minutes, Gonzaga found themselves with a 3-1 lead. The goal started with a terrific pass from defender Nick Heinrichs, who picked out Conor Baranski in the midfield. Baranski then led off a beautiful "through ball" to Zach Smith, who had a one-on-one with the goalie. Smith beat the goalie with a gorgeous shot off the outside of his foot, and with that goal the rout was on. The Zags continued to attack the Toreros defense, and in the 69th minute they found the goal again. This time it was a beautiful pass from Mitchell Weller that found Nick Love streaking behind the defense. With only the goalie to beat, Love slotted the ball into the back of the net. The goal set off huge celebrations both from the fans and the team, and it was clear that the game was over. Conor Barnaski had a chance to score another for the Zags, after the team was awarded a penalty for a foul on Tye Perdido. However, Baranski was denied by a diving save from the USD goalie.
It appears that this team has hit its stride, and is really putting itself in contention for a berth in the NCAA Tournament. While the 4 goals is certainly impressive, I was blown away by the Gonzaga defense. The leader of the defense is Nick Barclay, who is a pleasure to watch. Barclay consistently makes aggressive challenges, and along with Nick Heinrichs, he keeps the defense organized. If the back four continue to play at this high level, the team could be poised to put together a nice NCAA Tournament run.
I really hope that the commissioner of the WCC reviews the actions of two USD players. Kevin Cook, a defender for the Toreros clearly swung an elbow at the head of Nick Love with about 10 minutes remaining in the match. The ref missed this, but the Gonzaga bench didn't, and head coach Einar Thorarinsson gave the referee a piece of his mind. This was a clear case of an intentional elbow, and unfortunately, Tye Perdido was given a yellow card when he got in the face of Cook. This was clearly just a case of Perdido defending his teammate, and hopefully the team will appeal the card. Also, I hope the WCC reviews the actions of JD Penilton. At the conclusion of the match, Penilton walked over to the fans and began screaming expletives and had to be restrained by his teammates. It was an embarrassing action by Penilton, as there were numerous kids that could hear what he was yelling. These incidents need to be reviewed, and hopefully the WCC will take action.