The Arizona Western men’s soccer team is headed to the NJCAA national tournament for the first time ever.
The Matadors postseason surge continued Friday afternoon at Salt Lake City College, where AWC defeated the previously-unbeaten Bruins 3-1 in the NJCAA Division I West District Final.
Ridwane Boukraa drew two penalty kicks, both of which Michele Signorelli converted, while Jesus Chillon added the other goal for the Matadors, who move on to the national tournament that begins Nov. 18 in Tyler, Texas.
“Really great, it feels exciting,” 15th-year AWC coach Kenny Dale said. “I think we’ve had several chances (to make nationals) before and just got caught up on a couple of hurdles late in the playoffs. This time we got it done.”
This was just the second-ever District Finals appearance for the Matadors (15-5-2 overall), who made it there by reeling off three straight wins in the Region I tournament as the No. 4 seed.
No. 3-ranked Salt Lake, the Region 18 champ, entered Friday at 14-0-1 on the season, but never led against No. 18 AWC.
The Matadors struck first about 11 minutes into the contest, when Boukraa was fouled in the box and Signorelli put home the PK. The same exact sequence occurred again in the 63rd minute, which gave AWC a 2-0 lead.
“Ridwane Boukraa was outstanding all day,” Dale said. “He attacked, attacked, attacked. He’s very technical, fast and hard to handle. He has the ability to run with the ball on his feet at high speed, and that’s difficult to defend. They had a couple of guys swing their legs out in the penalty area and down he went.”
But Boukraa was shown his second yellow card in the 71st minute, putting AWC a man down. That didn’t stop the Matadors from extending their lead to 3-0 a few minutes later, when Chillon scored on a shot far post.
AWC goalie Duro Dragicevic, who tallied seven saves, kept the Bruins scoreless until they got their lone goal in the 81st minute.
The Matadors held on from there, despite losing another player (Jesus Sanchez) to a second yellow in the final minute and having to finish the game with nine men.
“I think we defended very, very well,” Dale said. “We got the first goal which always helps. Our team defending was the best I’ve ever seen it. We were able to cover the vital area and prevent them from getting behind us.”