The road to Philadelphia is officially underway as the [3/4] University of Denver Pioneers embarked on their 2017 season opener. Riding on a 36-game unbeaten regular season streak, the Pioneers returned to CIBER Field capping the [23/15] Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) Eagles 3-1 in a chippy match on Friday, Aug. 25.
“We coined that phrase ‘fighting football’ so that means to us that we play to play. There’s a resiliency, a collectiveness, there’s a fight that’s associated with that,” Head coach Jamie Franks said. “That’s the mentality that we went into the game with. It was crazy, there were injuries, there were subs, there were goals, but for us the biggest take away that I have is that I have good leaders and guys willing to step up when it gets difficult. Above anything else that’s what I’m most pleased about; that my older guys are ready to take ownership of this team.”
Following last season’s heartbreak in extra-time against Wake Forest during the College Cup in Houston, Denver’s (1-0-0, 0-0-0 Summit League) journey to win a national title at this year’s host Philadelphia, began with tonight’s combative 3-1 victory.
“After the Wake Forest game last season we’ve been hungry for the past eight or nine months for this moment,” senior captain Alex Underwood said. “For the last nine months everything has been focused on getting back to the Final Four and going to Philly come December. You could tell the guys were fit, looked good and we were prepared. We deserved the win tonight.”
A chippy first half with a the score tied one apiece, carried over into an only increasingly intense second half. Senior forward Blake Elder secured the game-winning goal after the Pioneers were awarded with a free-kick taken by Underwood. The Eagles’ backline deflected Underwood’s strike to Elder on the backdoor. Elder drilled a one-timer past FGCU goalie Jared Brown.
Last season’s leading goal scorer (with nine goals), junior forward Andre Shinyashiki converted his second goal of the night with 12 minutes remaining in regulation. The Brazil native extended Denver’ lead 3-1 after intercepting a backwards pass and sent his shot into the twine to further secure the ‘W’.
“When teams come to play at CIBER [Field] they know that under Jamie we are 40-1-2 they know the only way they are going to get something out of us is to be chippy,” Shinyashiki said. “We just try to stay composed and play our game. We’re not really a team that needs to do that [play chippy], we just need to play our soccer and stay with our heads clear. I think we did a good job of that today.”
FGCU applied pressure early on, setting a fast-paced, brawling tone of play. Once the Pioneers settled into the level of competition it wasn’t long until they found the back of the net. Eight minutes into play, redshirt senior midfielder Kyle Morlack lofted a volley over the Eagles’ backline. Shinyashiki sent a one-timer nine-yards out to deliver a one-goal lead.
Exchanges were admitted between teams as senior centerback Scott DeVoss clashed heads with a FGCU player, slicing the upper side of his cheek open. DeVoss required further attention throughout the first half as the wound reopened.
The aggression continued to heighten as the Eagles matched the scoreboard one apiece, with a header goal scored on a corner kick in the 18th minute of action.
Denver held a 7-5 shot advantage during the ruthless match.
Playing intensity didn’t waver in the second half as both teams continued to battle ruthlessly on the pitch. Yellow cards were administered to DU’s Graham Smith and FGCU’s Miguel Jaime.
DeVoss had an opportunity to double Denver’s lead 22-minutes into the second-half, but he was just short of connecting on the backdoor of a long throw-in.
New additions to DU’s jerseys were debuted as “5280” was positioned just above each player’s number. The Pioneers pride themselves on being one of the fittest teams in the nation, with the ability to out-run teams for the full-90 minutes and then some, given their daily high altitude training.
“It’s a little bit of a reminder to the teams we’re playing that they’re at altitude every time they see the back of our jerseys they see that 5280 on there,” Underwood said. “I think that’s why we’re so good at home, because we’re used to playing and training at altitude everyday. You can tell 25-30 minutes into the game, most teams hit a wall and that’s when we do most of our damage. We’re used to it, we’re fitter than most teams so that 5280 is just a little bit of reminder to the other team that they’re going to be feeling it more.”
Denver returns to CIBER Field on Monday, Aug. 28 to take on the University of Akron at 7 p.m.
“The preparation for that game [against Akron] is just getting better from this game first,” Franks said. “Worrying about saving some of our mistakes and some of our successes and trying to build on those things. We just worry about one game at a time. We’ll enjoy this [win] tonight and then Akron will be the focus starting tomorrow afternoon.