Shelby Scott, Director of Athletics Communications
IRVINE, Calif. – With a dominant performance on Saturday night against upset-minded Hastings College, the No. 1 ranked Central Methodist men’s soccer team did what no other NAIA men’s soccer program has done since Lindsey Wilson in 2001: win back-to-back national championships.
In the first minute of play, Hastings appeared to have a good scoring chance with a free kick from about 30 yards out. But the wall held strong for Central Methodist to thwart any opportunity.
The Eagles got on the board first in the 15th minute as Junior Kazeem (SR/London, England) used his left foot to place the ball into the bottom right corner past the goalie. Daniel Hernandez (SO/Bogota, Colombia) set up the play with a beautiful through ball that split the last two defenders and found a streaking Kazeem for the goal.
“That goal was nothing without my teammates because it’s my teammates that make all of this possible,” Kazeem said. “I was full of emotion, but just knowing that this was my very last game and to finish it off with a goal was something special.”
Just a few minutes later, Hastings found itself lurking in the box with a couple of nifty passes, but Fabio Tarnowski (SR/Avigliana, Italy) stepped in front of a shot by Lukas Goetz to keep the Broncos scoreless.
Central Methodist found some breathing room in the 36th minute. One possession after Rian Marques (SR/Itabuna, Brazil) almost knocked a header into the net, he passed to an open Rodrigo Paredes (JR/Asuncion, Paraguay), who stepped into the ball from about 25 yards out and hit a rocket into the bottom left corner for a 2-0 advantage.
A two-goal cushion at the intermission was not satisfactory for the Eagles, however. In the 44th minute, Guzman Pery (JR/Madrid, Spain) expertly placed a long ball into the box to Jayton Johnson (FR/Columbia, Mo.), who beat the last defender and guided the ball into the top right corner with a short chip shot past the goalie’s outstretched hand.
A flurry of chances late in the second half for Hastings were negated by strong defensive play by Central Methodist. Those chances eventually resulted in a penalty kick for Hastings after a CMU foul inside the 18-yard box. Vince Gelei (SR/Dunakeszi, Hungary) was able to get a hand on the PK, but it snuck past for the only Broncos’ goal of the night.
“Our back line, across the board with everyone interchanging, has been amazing,” Nichols said. “It’s going to be tough losing Vince and Fabio, the best goalkeeper in the NAIA and the best one-on-one defender I’ve ever seen in my coaching career. I’m going to miss Fabio and Vince big-time because they’re class players.”
The two-goal margin of victory is the first time since Bellhaven beat Mobile, 2-0, in 2012 that the national championship was decided by more than one goal.
“The players that came in this year had to buy into the culture,” Gelei said. “Last year’s team was the foundation of success. These moments remind us that all those tiring, long hours were worth it.”
Hastings proved to be a Cinderella story, advancing as an unseeded team all the way to the title game by defeating the No. 14, No. 3, No. 6, and No. 2 overall seeds in consecutive games. The Broncos won the national championship as recently as 2016, but couldn’t overcome the Eagles on Saturday night.
The Eagles controlled the majority of the game, outshooting the Broncos, 23-9. Hastings did hold a 6-3 advantage on corner kicks, but were unable to cash in on any of those chances.
“I have been amazed by the poise and resiliency of our men’s soccer team all season,” said Vice President for Athletics and Student Life Natasha Wilson. “To win one national tournament is tough enough, but to go out and win a second one takes a great amount of focus and determination. This championship is proof of the type of experiences our CMU coaches and staff work hard to provide for our student-athletes on a daily basis.”
In the national tournament, Central Methodist outscored its opponents by a remarkable 18-2 margin.
Central Methodist finished the season with a 25-1 record, breaking numerous school records along the way, including most wins in a season, fewest losses in a season, and highest single-season winning percentage.
In two seasons with the Eagles, Daniel Hernandez became the all-time career leader in goals. With 23 goals in 2019, Alberto Pangrazzi (SR/Lavis (TN), Italy) broke Hernandez’s single-season goals record set a season ago. Vince Gelei added to his career records for goalkeeper shutouts and victories.
The Eagles won a second-straight regular-season conference championship, the first conference tournament title in school history, and added to its legacy with a second-straight national championship.