CHICKASHA – Home field advantage, a lot of heart and a pair of goals is all it took to send the Drovers on to the next round of the NAIA Men’s Soccer National Championship as they shut out Grand View 2-0 in the Opening Round.
“The team competed hard and played hard for each other,” USAO head coach Jimmy Hampton said after the game. “I’m real proud of our boys as they make their own identity.”
The win keeps the Drovers (14-0-4) undefeated as the go into the NAIA Men’s Soccer National Championship presented by Carrabba’s Italian Grill, which will take place Nov. 26-Dec. 1 in Montgomery, Ala.
This is the Drovers third trip in a row to the national championship final site. They will take on Belhaven out of Mississippi at 11 a.m. on Nov. 27.
“I haven’t thought much about Alabama, but we will regroup as a staff tomorrow and start looking at the next game versus Belhaven,” Hampton said. “It doesn’t get any easier, and we look forward to doing our best and competing as hard as we can.”
Unlike the Drovers, USAO found it difficult to get shots off in the first half on Saturday night, allowing the Vikings to outshoot them 5-4.
But with just four minutes left before halftime, junior Scott Parkinson tossed a header over to Ryan Clougherty, who knocked a perfect bicycle kick straight into the left side of the goal. It was Clougherty’s second goal of the season.
Up 1-0 at half, the Drovers continued to battle and dominated the second half of the game offensively, with 14 shots to Grand View’s three.
At the 68-minute mark, GVU’s Drake King fouled USAO in the box, giving freshman Niall Burley an opportunity to shoot a penalty kick. He sailed it into the left side of the goal for his third goal of the season.
The Drovers went on to win the game 2-0. In the last three years, the Drovers have won the Opening Round in shutout victories.
USAO sophomore goalkeeper Bryan Byars had three saves and recorded his 11th shutout of the season, beating out his own record for most shutouts in a season and tying assistant coach Alexis Vizarelis’ all-time shutout record at 21.
Conor Thomas, the Vikings’ keeper, had five saves in the game, four of which were in the second half.
While it was considered a home game for USAO, they played on Hampton Field at Chickasha High School. Hampton, who used to be the CHS soccer coach, said it was enjoyable to spend another night coaching on the field that was named after him. In fact, he said he doesn’t remember ever suffering a loss on that field.
It was the fourth Opening Round appearance in a row for the Drovers but the first time they had the opportunity to host. A couple hundred fans showed up to support the team, which Hampton said made this Opening Round game special.
“The fans and playing at home were top class,” he said. “We appreciate all the support from USAO, Chickasha, Chickasha Public Schools and Chickasha Booster Club for getting behind us and putting on a top class event.”