San Jose, Calif. - Nick Cukar’s right-footed volley into the back of the net off a deflection at the 66:11 mark sent San Jose State University to a 1-0 triumph over the United States Air Force Academy in a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation men’s soccer match at Spartan Stadium on Sunday afternoon, October 19.
Senior holding central midfielder Hiroki Akiyama had his initial shot from near the top of the penalty box deflect off a Falcon defender and float toward goal. Cukar, a junior outside midfielder, was first to the ball, and picked it out of the air for his fourth goal of the year. The score proved to be his team-leading third of the game-winning variety in 2008.
Senior tri-captain Richard Mann earned his first start of the season in the Spartan net, and was hardly tested in notching his first individual clean sheet of the year and 12th of his career. The San Jose native out of Leland High School needed to make just two saves over the 90 minutes.
With the shutout victory following four consecutive one-goal losses to begin the conference slate, San Jose State evens its overall record back up at 5-5-3, and improves to 1-4 in the MPSF. Air Force falls to 4-9 overall and 2-3 in conference play.
San Jose State held an enormous shot advantage on the day, at 28-9, including a whopping 18-4 in the second half after making a switch at the break from a one-forward alignment to a two-forward scheme. That change in strategy brought sophomore Efrain Burgos, Jr., normally an attacking central midfielder, into the fray for the first time in the game as that second striker option, and quickly paid dividends.
Burgos, Jr., wound up sharing the game high in shots with Cukar at six apiece, his half-dozen total coming in just 37 minutes. A game-high three of his attempts were on frame. Eleven of the 13 Spartan field players that saw action registered at least one shot taken.
Steve Noller and fellow junior Steve Rosser, himself a San Jose native out of Bellarmine College Prep, produced two shots apiece for Air Force. Junior goalkeeper Jim Gullo matched his career high with eights saves for a third consecutive match.
Early on in a largely uneventful first half, the visiting Falcons capitalized on some tentative defending by the Spartans to notch the first three shots of the afternoon over the first 6:23. A high attempt by Oscar Yniguez, a true freshman out of Redwood City, Calif., who was making just the third start of his college career, got San Jose State on the shot chart at 8:27.
The graduate of Woodside High School would later have arguably the best opportunity to dent the scoreboard by either side over the opening 45 minutes of play, when his far-post header from an open position from inside the penalty area narrowly went wide to the left. Senior right back Gavin Wenyon provided a pin-point right-sided cross. The first corner kick by either team was taken by Wenyon at 37:17.
The play-by-play for the first 15 minutes of the second period reads like a home team shot summary, with the Spartans pelting the Falcon goal six times in just over 10 minutes. Three of those attempts came from Burgos, Jr., with two more from Cukar. Three needed Gullo saves.
During that furious stretch, an accurate long ball from right to left by Akiyama found the foot of Burgos, Jr., in the 55th minute. The San Bruno native took a touch inside and unleashed a shot that was too hot for Gullo to handle cleanly. Colby Moore put the rebound over the crossbar.
Twenty-nine seconds later, Cukar’s long-range effort went straight into Gullo’s lap. Just over three minutes after that, Wenyon fired a shot from distance that forced Gullo to dive to his right to push the ball away to a corner kick. Back-to-back corner kicks in quick succession did not produce a result.
In the 60th minute, Burgos, Jr., pounced on a loose ball off a bad Air Force clearance, only for his hard, low shot to be kept out again by Gullo.
Within three minutes after Cukar’s strike, the Spartans had one golden opportunity to up their advantage, as Burgos, Jr., squeezed a perfect pass through to fellow sophomore Ricky Dorrego. The product of Lincoln High School went one-on-one with Gullo, but the Falcon net-minder was successful once more.
The final 10 minutes were not short on drama, as San Jose State went down to 10 minute due to a red card issue to junior striker Stephen Cordova. The Spartans were able to manage the clock and fend Air Force off for the remainder, though reserve Garrett Getschow’s curling shot in the 85th minute generated some fleeting moments of anxiety before going wide to the left.
San Jose State now has 11 days off from competition and returns to action for the second half of the MPSF’s double round robin schedule in Denver, Colo., on Friday, October 31, against the first-place Denver Pioneers (7-5, 5-0 MPSF).
Air Force (4-9, 2-3 MPSF) - 0 0 - 0
San Jose State (5-5-3, 1-4 MPSF) - 0 1 - 1
SJSU - Nick Cukar (4) (Hiroki Akiyama), 66:11
AFA - 9
SJSU - 28
AFA - 8 (Jim Gullo-8)
SJSU - 2 (Richard Mann-2)
AFA - 2
SJSU - 4
AFA - 12
SJSU - 16