Sunday, September 29, 2013

Gonzaga men close out successful non-conference slate with 2-1 win over Seattle U

The Zags had plenty to celebrate in the wet conditions Saturday | Photos: Gerald Barnhart
Back home after nearly a month on the road in which the Bulldogs enjoyed their greatest success in quite some time, the Gonzaga men, ranked 23 by Soccer America, found some freedom from the wind in the second half Saturday afternoon to build a two-goal lead against Seattle University en route to a 2-1 victory on a very wet and blustery afternoon.

Clark Phillips
In the Seattle-like weather conditions, the Redhawks nearly stunned the Zags just three minutes into the match when a low cross into the six created a dangerous chance for Hamza Haddadi. He was unable to finish though and a second Redhawk player couldn't get to it for a second chance of putting it away.

Gonzaga had a good look early in the 12th minute when Zach Hamer's shot from the top left of the area off a corner only to see it fly high, and in the 23rd minute Conner Bevans drove up the middle and slipped the ball forward to Clark Phillips, who split three defenders only to send the shot wide from about 13 yards with a defender sliding in simultaneously on the strike.

Seattle nearly claimed the lead two minutes before the intermission when a ball came out to Brady Ballew after a quick counter on the left side. Ballew cut by a defender that slipped coming out to challenge and struck it well a yard out from the left corner of the arc to the far side of goal, forcing an outstretched save from Ryan Caballero.

The second half saw the Bulldogs liven up around the box, creating many more opportunities and, ultimately, goals.

"I think the first half it was the wind affect for us; kind of locked down by the wind," said Gonzaga head coach Einar Thorrarinsson. "I knew the second half would open up so we put a little more pressure on them and they struggled coming out with that wind, which really wasn't really that bad, but sometimes it is just enough. So we just upped the pressure and got more shots."

Jakob Granlund
In the 52nd minute it looked like the Bulldogs had a certain goal when Bevans charged down the left side of the area before sending a ball in central allowing Nick Hamer to fly in and blast a shot from 11 yards on goal. Seattle goalkeeper Jake Feener made a great reaction foot save to keep it out.

Three minutes later, though, a slow reaction to a throw in on left side proved costly for the Redhawks. The restart was sent in toward the box to Lars Ludwigs, who delivered the ball forward to Nick Hamer as he cut diagonally in from the left to the edge of the box. Hamer took a touch and then made a deft cut of the ball to put it to his right just as a Redhawk defender came in to tackle it away, finding Jakob Granlund, who stepped up to finish from about 16 yards for the lead.

In the 67th minute the Bulldogs had the Redhawks under pressure in the box, but it looked like the opportunity was basically over when the ball was cleared out with a header. Ludwigs, moving diagonally backwards after collecting the ball, put it back in the mix by cutting it to the left with pace across his body from edge of area. The ball went to Phillips, who was able to redirect it back toward the right side of goal causing the committed Feener to slip as he attempted to correct course on the play, allowing the ball to slowly roll over the line.

"Clark has been, you know, our go-to-guy and he's always our target, but Jakob has really come on the last two or three games - our freshman from Denmark. He's playing well. He scored the first goal, so yeah we are sharing the scoring; scoring by committee. It's pretty good," Thorarinsson said of the variety of scorers the Zags have had so far this season.

Though dominant most of the match, the Gonzaga defensive unit had a slip-up with 12 minutes remaining when a quick counter up left side finished with some nice combination play that resulted in Michael Roberts beating Caballero near post from close range on a ball from Renato Bandeira.

The Bulldogs had been stellar at the defensive end while on the road, allowing just one goal in five games to go 4-0-1 in a stretch that included victories over two ranked opponents, UC Santa Barbara and Wisconsin, and a Cal Poly side that had beaten sixth-ranked UCLA days prior. The series of road games began after the narrow 1-0 loss at home in an even contest with the University of Washington, which remains unbeaten and ranked in the top ten.

"We've had a good stand against some good forwards, especially the game against Wisconsin," Thorarinsson said of the defense's performance over the past month. "They (Wisconsin) were a very potent offense and we were able to shut them down. Obviously Santa Barbara too, but Wisconsin really was our test."

The Gonzaga men now open their West Coast Conference campaign with a trip back to California, facing Saint Mary's Friday and San Francisco Sunday.

"We are looking forward to it," Thorarinsson said of starting conference play, but the longtime coach would not divulge any expectations for the season.

"No (expectations); we were picked to finish last, so that's where we will start," he said in a measured demeanor, which was surprising considering the team's performance and current ranking. Did he expect them to move up from last?

"We'll try. We will give it our best," he said dryly.

Gonzaga vs Seattle Highlights (GU athletics)