MORAGA, Calif. -- Having just one 4-year senior on its entire roster, Saint Mary's men's soccer coach Adam Cooper could be forgiven if he wasn't entirely sure how his young team would perform in today's season opener against a veteran Air Force side.
After posting a convincing 3-1 victory over the Falcons, it appeared his young Gaels showed they are well prepared for the challenges of the season ahead.
Saint Mary's won its season opener for the third-straight season by outshooting Air Force by a 16-12 margin, playing solid defensively and watching junior keeper Andre Rawls pick up where he left off last season with a match-high six saves. Half of the Gaels' shots were on frame and 13 shots overall were taken by freshmen or sophomores.
"We scored three good goals and we won at home against a difficult opponent, so it was a great way to start the season," said Cooper, who improved to 4-1-3 in season openers as a head coach. "It was good for our young guys to get that first game under their belt to give them confidence going into Sunday (against LIU Brooklyn) and going into the season.
"I think there is a lot we are going to have to improve on if we are going to compete for a WCC title. We are going to have to continue to get better. The guys work hard every day and they are doing a good job so I have every confidence we will be able to do that."
Facing a NCAA Tournament-tested AFA team that knocked-off 11th-ranked New Mexico 2-0 in an exhibition match last week, the Gaels fell behind in the 3rd minute of the match.
After Saint Mary's turned the ball over in its defensive third, Falcons junior Zachary Modly passed the ball to his left to open senior forward Brian Klazura. The Rockford, Ill. native dribbled into the box and slotted the ball past Rawls for his first goal of the season and an early lead.
Junior Bobby Conner scored the equalizer for the Gaels in the 19th minute when he buried a shot into the upper right corner of SMC's new red and white checkered netting to tie the game at a goal apiece. Freshmen Alex Braman and Rafael Sanchez were credited with the assists on the goal, which was created and scored by a trio of defenders.
After going into halftime deadlocked at a goal apiece, the Gaels started the second half quickly. Redshirt freshman Carlo Eikani directed a header from sophomore Alan Williams over the outstretched arms of AFA keeper Joe Spashock and into the back of the net for his first career goal, which proved to be the game-winner.
The two teams played a spirited second half, much to delight of the fans of both teams. The end result was confirmed when sophomore midfielder Will Kendall fired a low shot from inside the penalty area that went under Spashock to gave SMC the final 2-goal margin of victory.
Saint Mary's returns to action Sunday with a 2 p.m. match against LIU Brooklyn.
Season, single-game and group ticket packages are available through the tickets link on SMCGaels.com or by calling the SMC Athletic Ticket Office at (925) 631-GoTx (4689). For those unable to attend, the match will be streamed live via subscription service Gaels Live. Real-time statistics will also be available on SMCGaels.com.