Monday, October 14, 2013

Outstanding Gonzaga performance spoiled by San Diego in 3-3 draw

Clark Phillips (L) and Nick Hamer (R) jubilation from equalizers | Photos: Gerald Barnhart - GALLERY
In what could have been a marquee result in their West Coast Conference campaign with the offense running on all cylinders throughout the contest as they held the better of play, the Gonzaga Bulldog men had to settle for a 3-3 draw Sunday at home versus San Diego, which used two penalties and a corner to make things much more difficult than needed to be.

San Diego took the lead twice on set pieces with Nick Hamer equalizing for the Zags after the first and Clark Phillips the second before adding his own go-ahead goal in a dramatic five-goal second half.

"We have to take the positive out of it," Gonzaga head coach Einar Thorarinsson said about having a good performance negated by three set piece goals. "There were three restart goals, the red card and us fighting back twice to come back from behind shows our character on [the boys'] part. And, they played well enough to win it - I thought when we scored the third goal we were going to be able to hold it."

Coming off a 2-1 victory over visiting Loyola Marymount Friday, the Bulldogs were flying from the start and moving the ball extremely well, taking advantage of a number of turnovers from the Toreros. Fourteen minutes in it led to a free kick just outside the arc that Nikolai Littleton directed just under the bar, stretching goalkeeper Michael D'Arrigo out on the save. The ball popped up inside the six for a dangerous rebound opportunity but Phillips' header as he was challenged by the keeper went off the crossbar.

Despite holding the better of the play, though, Gonzaga saw the visitors take the lead when San Diego had a short run of possession in the box. At the half-hour mark Michael Turner sent a 14-yard effort from the right side right to Ryan Caballero and a minute later a foul by Josh Phillips in the box from sticking his leg out in a block attempt resulted in a penalty. Connor Brandt's spot kick, however, was nearly saved by Caballero, who dove to his left and got a good piece of the ball, but not enough as it squirted under his hand and over the line.

The rest of the first half saw a pair of close calls as a cross from Parker Victor floated goalward and caromed off the crossbar, though nobody was at the far post to finish, in the 40th and Alec Cutter drove into the box from the left side and went to fire from about 11 yards, but a defender stuffed the effort, deflecting it wide of the left post in the 43rd. Unfortunately, the key moment of the final five minutes may have been the knee injury suffered by Littleton in the 41st.
Nick Hamer

The Bulldogs finally began to find the mark and turn all of the offensive energy into results in the second half. Six minutes in Aaron Jeffrey launched a cross into the six that Hamer squatted down to head into the right side of the goal, sending the Zags into a frenzy.

Though Gonzaga continued to have the better of possession, the Toreros continued to share moments of threat at the other end. A cross in the 58th was chested down about nine yards out by Sergio Lopez, but he was unable to get around the ball for a shot and a minute later Torrey Dearmas fired a laser from long range that zipped wide right.

In the 67th, however, they finally connected on a corner when Brandt found the head of Lopez around the center edge of the six to reclaim the lead.

The interval before the response this time, though, was much shorter as the Zags answered just seven minutes later on a play created by Conner Bevans. The young striker collected the ball on a run and drove into the box between two defenders, losing his balance as he tripped over one and going down about 13 yards out. The ball continued onward squarely through the box allowing Clark Phillips to rush in and bury it with a sliding effort in the 74th minute.
Clark Phillips

"That's hard to do twice in a game when you are down because you have a tendency to let down after they fall behind, but they did it," Thorarinsson said of the team's tenacity in fighting back to pull even.

Phillips struck again in the 82nd to finally put Gonzaga in front. Jakub Granlund received a long ball up the right side and took it a little deeper before cutting back and beating a defender to drive inside to the edge of the box, unleashing a cross to the far side that Phillips headed in across the goal from six yards in front of the left post.

Bevans nearly made the lead two just two minutes later when he drove from the left flank parallel to the area 27 yards from goal and ripped a shot from about 25 yards toward the left post that the keeper had to fully stretch out to save. He created another near chance again after another two minutes passed, streaking to goal right of the arc and slipping the ball left to Zach Hamer, whose effort was stopped.

The missed chances proved costly as a controversial handball call at the other end with three minutes left sent Brandt back to the spot. This time he had no trouble beating Caballero, forcing an overtime session that proved to be just as dramatic.

Three minutes into the extra time Ben Striar nearly provided a Zag winner with a blast from about 30 yards that the keeper barely tipped over the crossbar, and the ensuing corner was headed out, falling to Striar, who dished it left to Josh Phillips whose shot was nicely saved.

A cross halfway through the first period of overtime found the head of Clark Phillips, but contact by a defender prevented a good finish and drew shouts of a penalty from the Zags, who were frustrated from the two calls at the other end.

Dominating in overtime, things turned for Gonzaga when an innocuous tackle at midfield that didn't appear to connect with the Torero player led to a second yellow to Aaron Jeffery, leaving the Bulldogs down a man.

"You can do it two ways: you can put an extra defender in or keep the attack going. I decided to keep attacking; try to go for the win."

Despite their short-handed position, the Bulldogs continued to create opportunities, but it was San Diego with the first good look. In the 101st minute Brandt drove into the box an the right side, sending a low shot whistling through a bunch of players and wide left. A minute later Nick Hamer had the best chance for a stunning Zags winner, but his opportunity from about 12 yards flew high.

"It was a good weekend, obviously, with a win and a tie," Thorarinsson said of the weekend's results, an understatement considering Loyola Marymount was picked to finish third in the preseason poll and is currently tied at the top of the conference with Gonzaga, and San Diego was the second choice among conference coaches.

The 1-0-3 start is arguably the best start for the Zags since they were 3-0-1 in 2007, but that season spiraled away from them afterward as they had just one win in the remaining eight conference games (1-4-3). The three-goal outing was the best performance for the Bulldog offense since a 3-2 overtime win against UW-Green Bay at Oregon State's Classic in September of 2012 and the first against a WCC opponent since they edged San Diego 3-2 in overtime two years ago on October 9.

Gonzaga v San Diego Highlights (