San Jose, Calif. - The San Jose State University men’s soccer team got an early goal, again from junior midfielder Nick Cukar, and played suffocating defense as a team for 90 minutes in knocking off the University of New Mexico, 1-0, and ending the Lobos’ four-year reign atop the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation at Spartan Stadium on Sunday afternoon, November 9.
With its third win in a row to extend its unbeaten streak now to five matches, San Jose State improves to 8-5-4, assuring itself of an above-.500 overall mark for a second straight year. The Spartans also even their league record at 4-4-1, after having started the MPSF campaign with four consecutive losses, all by one goal, with the first three of them away from home.
New Mexico, the four-time defending MPSF champion, drops to 9-6-2 overall and 5-3 in league play. The result clinches the 2008 outright league crown for Denver University, now with 22 points, while UNM is stuck at 15, with two matches to play for each side. The Spartans strengthen their grip on third place, now with 13 points and a shot at second heading into the final weekend.
The lone goal of the match came from Cukar, as the junior out of Millbrae, Calif., and Capuchino High School continued an incredible run of his own. At the 4:38 mark, central defender Sam Shore took the ball in the air off a Lobo defender, threading a first-time pass with his feet to fellow senior Hiroki Akiyama in midfield, who in turn put a one-time through ball onto the path of Cukar. Cukar beat two New Mexico defenders to the ball and slotted it past sophomore Lobo goalkeeper Justin Fite and into the back of the net. It marked his fourth straight goal for San Jose State and team-leading eighth on the season. It would also ultimately prove to be his MPSF-leading sixth game-winner. Cukar scored the overtime winner to down UNLV on Friday.
Akiyama and Shore were credited with their fifth and second assists, respectively, with all five of Akiyama’s assists coming on Cukar scores. In fact, San Jose State has now won four matches by the final of 1-0 this year, with Cukar scoring the lone goal in each, and Akiyama either providing a solo assist or combining on the assist on all four.
Throughout the 90 minutes played on Sunday, the Spartans locked down on defense and arguably did not allow even a decent chance for New Mexico to score. The Lobos put two of their nine shots on goal, both by leading scorer Justin Davis, only for senior goalkeeper Lewis Sweeney to save them. By comparison, San Jose State had eight of 12 attempts on frame.
The back-line foursome of Ed Brand and Sam Shore in the middle, fellow senior Gavin Wenyon on the right, and fourth-year junior Oscar Monjaras on the left, combined with defensive-minded midfielders Hiroki Akiyama, Josh Boemecke and Brian McGuire, the equally-hard-working winger duo of Nick Cukar and Ricky Dorrego, and Colby Moore up top, did not allow the Lobos to get a sniff of Sweeney’s goal. Junior forward Stephen Cordova and redshirt freshman Robert Jackson were the only substitutes used by San Jose State, and then each provided bursts of energy for nine and 18 minutes, respectively.
Sweeney notched just those two saves to earn his fourth shutout of the year and seventh of his major college career. Fite made six stops in just his third start of the year for the Lobos.
Dorrego matched his single-game collegiate high with a game-high four shots, two of them on goal. All three of Akiyama’s efforts were on target, as were both of Cukar’s attempts.
New Mexico had possibly it’s best chance to score at the very start, as Davis latched onto a through ball by Jack Smithson and took a hard shot that Sweeney parried over the crossbar for a corner kick in the third minute. The Spartan goal came just over two minutes later.
In the 21st minute, Akiyama hit Cukar with a very similar through ball as from the goal, but Cukar lost possession heading into the opposing penalty area, looking for an infraction but getting nothing out of the match official. In the 39th minute, Brand connected with Cukar, whose through ball down the left wing was latched onto by Cordova, only for the City College of San Francisco transfer’s shot to go narrowly wide to the left, keeping the score at 1-0.
The last minute of the first half saw Zach Tierney’s throw-in from the right fin Michael Green open in the center of the area, but the freshman midfielder shot high.
The Spartans had numerous opportunities to widen the gap following the break. In the 52nd minute, a back pass by a Lobo defender was not handled very well by Fite, whose clearance attempt was almost deflected into the goal by a charging Cukar. A minute later, Monjaras’ cross from the left was headed by Moore toward the far post, but Fite made the save.
Another nice combination play occurred at the 67:50 mark, as Akiyama found Wenyon, who in turn got the ball to Cukar, but the shot in front of goal was again saved by Fite.
San Jose State had perhaps its best chance to double its advantage in the 78th minute. Moore put a neat pass through to Wenyon all alone down the right wing, with the latter player taking it toward the goal line before providing a cross that reached Dorrego right in the center of the penalty box. The San Jose native and Lincoln High School graduate’s shot, however, was blocked away as it headed toward the near corner of the goal, by sophomore defender Ryan Farquharson for a team save.
Dorrego had three more shots in quick succession late in the match, two of them set up by Moore, with no result. The final one came at 85:18, as Moore left his pass for the sophomore to run onto, but Dorrego’s shot went wide right and kept the result in doubt until the final horn.
San Jose State remains at home to conclude the 2008 season next Saturday, November 15, against MPSF foe Sacramento State (8-8-2, 3-6 MPSF) on Senior Night. Kick-off inside Spartan Stadium is set for 7:00 p.m. Seniors Richard Mann, Gavin Wenyon, Hiroki Akiyama, Ed Brand, Sam Shore and Lewis Sweeney will be recognized prior to their final match as Spartans.
New Mexico (9-6-2, 5-3 MPSF) - 0 0 - 0
San Jose State (8-5-4, 4-4-1 MPSF) - 1 0 - 1
SJSU - Nick Cukar (8) (Hiroki Akiyama, Sam Shore), 4:38
SJSU - 12
UNM - 7 (Justin Fite-6; Team-1)
SJSU - 2 (Lewis Sweeney-2)
UNM - 5
SJSU - 0
UNM - 13
SJSU - 13