Loyal Cougars

Men’s soccer uses second-half sprint to stun Fresno in PDL opener

Men’s soccer scored a solid win to open PDL play on Saturday.

BYU men’s soccer coach Chris Watkins knew it — his team wasn’t playing as well as they should be. But rather than panic, scream or yell at his club in the halftime locker room, he took a more methodical approach.

“It wasn’t as dramatic as I want to be able to say it was,” Watkins said. “In the first half, they really punched us in the face a bit and we just staggered around. We know we’re a good team; we’ve  beaten some good teams already.

“That first half was an anomaly, so we threw it aside. We needed one person — one spark — and it would come from there. And it turned out to be prophetic.”

Indeed, it was.

BYU turned a 1-0 halftime deficit into a 3-1 win over the Fresno Fuego by flipping the game around and winning their Premier Development League opener Saturday at South Field. The Cougars outshot the Fuego, 11-5 in the second half to eventually take control.

“Being down 1-0 in soccer, it’s still an open game,” midfielder Pedro Vasconcelos said. “We knew that we were more than capable of coming back into the game.”

The Cougars were outplayed in every way during the opening 45 minutes, as the Fuego came out on fire and speedy winger Paul Islas ravaged the right side of the field. Fresno outshot BYU, 6-2 during the opening stanza — and it could’ve been much worse than the 1-0 deficit the Cougars found themselves in.

Jose Cuevas put Fresno on top with a penalty kick in the 34th minute, slotting home a goal into the bottom left corner just out of reach of goalkeeper Brian Hale. Islas was pulled down on the edge of the 18-yard box, and the referee made an easy decision to award the advantage to the Fuego.

But as lopsided as the first half was, the second half proved much kinder to the Provo side that went 5-0 against Division I teams in its PDL warmup. Vasconcelos knotted the equalizer less than two minutes into the second half, blasting a howler that scorcher the back of the net.

“(Fresno) started passing the ball around, and when you don’t have the ball, your confidence goes down. We didn’t play the game the way we knew we could play,” he said. “We talked in the locker room, and we knew the game wasn’t all bad. They had the ball, but they didn’t create that many opportunities to score. We could come back in this game.”

Team captain Garrett Gee then gave BYU its first lead of the PDL season in the 57th minute, finding himself all alone inside the six-yard box to gingerly tap in Blake Frischknecht’s cross. The freshman from Las Vegas would add a goal of his own in the 80th minute, slicing through three Fresno defenders before chipping a ball over the goalkeeper. The play was so spectacular that Frischknect earned a yellow card for ripping off his shirt in immense celebration of score.

“Gee was huge,” Watkins said. “The first goal was his cross, a great cross. And of course, the second one — his composure in front of the net was incredible. That was one of the better games I have seen on this field. I’ve been doing this for 20 years. That was pretty good.”

The Cougars almost added a fourth with three minutes left in regulation, but Winston Sorhaitz’s rebound off a penalty kick was waived offsides.

BYU will continue a four-game homestand to start the PDL season on Thursday, May 8 when it hosts FC Tucson at 7:30 p.m. MT at South Field. The Cougars finished the preseason 5-0 with five straight wins against Division I college opponents.

“I think this year, we have a special team and special talent everywhere on the field,” Vasconcelos said. “We’ve got to start and play the 90 minutes the way we know we can play. In some games, if you finish up the first 45 minutes like that, you might not come back. We’ve got to start and finish strong.”