JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. – Following a four-year wait during the NCAA Division I reclassification period, the FGCU men’s soccer team made good on its first-ever postseason appearance, defeating sixth-seeded tournament host ETSU in the 2011 Atlantic Sun Championship final on Sunday in Johnson City, Tenn. The Eagles used a goal in the 89th minute of play by Scott Harrison (Cocoa, Fla./Merritt Island HS) to down the Bucs, 1-0, and advance to the NCAA Tournament in their first year of eligibility.
The victory moves the Eagles record to 12-5-2 on the year and gives them the A-Sun’s automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament, set to begin on Nov. 17. Meanwhile, the Bucs season ends with a 10-7-4 (3-4-1 A-Sun) record. FGCU, who won the regular season crown thanks to its 7-1 mark, is the first No. 1 seed to win the A-Sun Tournament since 2004.
“This is a very proud moment for the team, our staff and our program,” said A-Sun Coach of the Year Bob Butehorn. “Despite all the adversity we have faced, we felt that if we took the regular season and the tournament one game at a time we had a good enough team to win both. This is an historic moment in FGCU men’s soccer history, and we are excited to move on to the NCAA Tournament.”
In a tightly contested second half of play, the Eagles were finally able to break into the scoring column late in the game. A cross into the box by senior midfielder Francesco DiStefano (Kissimmee, Fla./Osceola HS) found Harrison inside the box, where he placed the header just past the outstretched hands of ETSU keeper Ryan Coulter and into the right side of the net at the 88:40 mark for his second goal of the season.
With just over a minute left on the clock at the restart, an FGCU foul just outside the box gave ETSU one last chance at an equalizer. Following the free kick, a shot by Coulter was blocked by the Eagles’ defense however the rebound was collected by ETSU's David Geno and crossed back into the box for a header attempt by Alesi Osorio. What appeared to be a sure goal to the upper left 90 by Osorio at the 89:57 mark was sent away on a leaping header save by freshman midfielder Yianni Sarris (Mentor, Ohio/Cleveland St. Ignatius HS), securing the 1-0 victory for the Green and Blue.
Sarris’ save was FGCU’s sixth and final one of the day, as freshman keeper Nathan Ingham (Ontario, Canada/Keswick HS) made five of his own en route to his first shutout of the year, as well as, to being named the A-Sun Championship Most Valuable Player. Ingham made a trio of saves over the final 10 minutes, keeping the game scoreless before Harrison’s golden goal down the stretch.
Joining Ingham on the A-Sun All-Tournament team were senior midfield captains Josey Portillo (Metairie, La./Grace King HS) and Cristian Raudales (Bradenton, Fla./Manatee HS), along with forwards freshman Xavier Silva (Boca Raton, Fla./North Broward Prep) and Harrison.
The Eagles best opportunity in the first half came in the 19th minute of play on a cross into the box from the left side by A-Sun All-Freshmen defender Federico Crespo (Heredia, Costa Rica/St. Paul College/Universidad Latina). The newcomer sent the ball into the box to a streaking Nick Patterson (Tarpon Springs, Fla./East Lake HS), but the sophomore forward’s redirect was saved by ETSU goalkeeper Ryan Coulter.
ETSU found two solid scoring opportunities at the 8:11 and 34:56 marks of the opening frame. The Bucs converted on both scoring chances, but both were taken off the board due to offside being called.
The teams headed to the intermission without either side getting a shot past the opposing keeper. FGCU held a 5-2 advantage in shots at the break, while ETSU claimed a 2-1 lead in the saves column and took the only corner kick of the half.
Battling in a tight second half of play, ETSU had a couple close scoring opportunities late in the period. A nice cross into the center of the box off a free kick found Jaron Westbrook, who sent a header barely over crossbar.
Minutes later, Ingham was forced to make a trio of crucial saves as Frank Doumbe headed a lofting entry on net at the 82:37 mark, and a David Geno shot from left side of the box was pushed away with a kick save in the 86th minute. Following another save by Ingham in the 87th minute, FGCU provided the lone score of the match and eventual game-winner off the foot of Harrison with just over a minute left to play.
The Eagles claimed the 2011 Atlantic Sun Conference Championship while trailing the Bucs in shots, 15-12, and corners 4-3.
FGCU will now advance to the NCAA Tournament set to begin on Nov. 17. The tournament field will be announced on Monday at 4:30 p.m. during the NCAA Selection Show broadcasted via livestream on www.NCAA.com.
2011 A-Sun All-Tournament Team Garret Pettis, Lipscomb Joey Heavner, Mercer Jonathan Mendoza, Stetson David Geno, ETSU Aaron Schoenfeld, ETSU Ryan Coulter, ETSU Xavier Silva, FGCU Josey Portillo, FGCU Scott Harrison, FGCU Cristian Raudales, FGCU Nathan Ingham, FGCU* *- A-Sun Championship Most Valuable Player