KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The No. 10 University of California San Diego men's soccer team let in a goal just 2:39 in and was unable to make it up in falling to top-ranked Wingate, 2-0, in a national semifinal of the 2016 NCAA Division II Championship on Thursday afternoon on Children's Mercy Victory Field at Swope Soccer Village.
With the result, UC San Diego completed its greatest season in the program's 17-year Division II history, at 19-3-2. Picked fifth in the preseason California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) poll, the Tritons wound up treble winners under ninth-year head coach Jon Pascale as first-time champions of the CCAA, CCAA Tournament and Division II West Region. They were making their first national semifinal appearance in 23 years, since the 1993 squad won the last of three Division III crowns.
Wingate, the South Atlantic Conference champion from Wingate, N.C., moved to 18-1 and advanced into Saturday's national title tilt against No. 4 Charleston (W.Va.), a 2-1 victor over sixth-ranked hometown outfit, Rockhurst, in the second semifinal.
UCSD got the day's first shot off, as Justice Duerksen hit a booming right-footer from distance that went well wide just 35 seconds in. On Wingate's initial effort, however, at 2:39, came the opening goal. Aksel Juul flicked a header toward the left edge of the six-yard box, where Christian Szalay was open to bang home a left-footer past senior goalkeeper Cameron McElfresh. It was the junior's third goal on the year.
The Tritons came real close in the 13th minute to getting that tally back, but Malek Bashti's touch around the near post on Duerksen's left-sided corner kick, traveled over the crossbar.
Uly de la Cal and Nick Palano had decent attempts late in the period, but those were also high and blocked by a defender, respectively. Shots were exactly even at five apiece at the break, and nine each after the full 90.
Just over three minutes into the second stanza, junior left back Nolan Mac sent a beautiful, deep pass over the top for Bashti to run onto. The redshirt junior striker galloped into the box and went down as he tried to shoot, but no foul was called.
Wingate took command in the 70th minute, capitalizing on a defensive miscue as Szalay pounced and chipped in his second goal of the contest from just outside the penalty area, left-footed again and over the head of McElfresh. The unassisted strike meant that the native of Vienna, Austria, had doubled his season goal tally on the day, from two to four.
With about 18 minutes to go, it was almost three, but true freshman center back Kelvin Uribe tracked back and made a well-timed slide tackle out for a corner kick with the Wingate player in close on the right diagonal, face to face with McElfresh.
In the end, a remarkable eighth come-from-behind triumph was not to be for UCSD. The defeat marked the end of the Triton careers of eight outstanding seniors in Duerksen, McElfresh, Palano, twin brother Sam Palano, Riley Harbour, captain Kuba Waligorski, Tyler Shaver and Brett Sampiere. Sampiere had been out through injury since the Sept. 1 opener during his fifth season in the program, but was present.
McElfresh finished with three saves. Sophomore counterpart Pablo Jara came up with a pair of stops in earning the individual clean sheet. Wingate was the only team remaining nationally in Division II which had allowed a single-digit goal total, still at eight. The Bulldogs and Tritons began the day No. 1 and No. 3 in team goals-against average, at 0.44 and 0.46, respectively.
McElfresh and Waligorski earlier in the day added National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) All-America distinction to their Division II Conference Commissioners Association All-America selections. McElfresh was the consensus first-team goalkeeper, with Waligorski gaining second-team nods.
Triton Notes: UCSD is now 3-2-3 over its four appearances at the NCAA Division II Championship, including 0-2-2 away from home and 0-1 against Wingate ... UCSD had won six games in a row and was 14-1-1 over its last 16 ... Prior to today's Wingate opener, four of the last six goals the Tritons had surrendered, and three straight, came from the penalty spot, with that tally snapping a string of 558:16 without a goal conceded from the run of play ... UCSD ultimately conceded 13 goals in 2016, just eight of them from the run of play, with four penalties and a free kick ... The Tritons were shut out for just the fourth time in 24 matches in 2016, and first time since Sept. 30 ... They scored at least once in each of the previous 14 contests before Thursday ... The 19 wins were the Tritons' most since going 21-2-1 during their last Division III national-title season in 1993.