If you were to ask Jim Rickard which of the two victories his Mustangs have earned over the past five days holds the greater importance, you may not be surprised to hear him say Tuesday’s thrilling, 1-0 double-overtime edging of No. 8 Vanguard.
Although last Friday’s win over Bethesda marked a personal milestone (career victory No. 300), Tuesday’s triumph was over a nationally-ranked squad that christened GSAC play on a confidence-building note.
That was made possible by Benjamin Tembo and his teammates. The sophomore midfielder from Malawi, Africa, was in the right place at the right time in the second extra stanza, taking a pass from Trevor Mangan and shooting it past Lion keeper Brandon Gomez in the 106th minute (105:19) to win the match and set off a jubilant celebration.
Speaking of Tembo’s game-winner, Rickard said, “The goal was such a nice sequence between Trevor and Benji. I was excited for them both to finish off the game.”
The Mustangs have now won three in a row, moving to 6-2-1 overall and 1-0 in the GSAC where they share first place with Hope International and Biola.
The match would not have made it to extra time if not for the superb play of Gomez and Mustang keeper Kyle Cunningham. In the first half, Gomez chalked up three saves while Cunningham was at his spectacular best, turning back five Lion shots, including three in a 5:40 window (7:42-13:22). Zach Klindworth almost gave the Mustangs an early lead, however, his blast at the 5:08 mark hit the crossbar and caromed back into the field of play.
It was more of the same in the second half with both goalies picking up three saves apiece. Neither recorded a save in the final 10 minutes of regulation as both clubs started to feel the effects of a pressure-filled match on a hot, muggy afternoon.
The Mustangs generated no offense in the first overtime, failing to record a shot on goal but Cunningham (3-0-1) kept the match scoreless, making two big saves in the 92nd minute (91:16 and 91:55).
In the second overtime, the Mustangs became the aggressor, keeping the ball on the Lion side of the field and producing a trio of shots in the first three minutes. That kind of field position proved to be decisive when Tembo struck with his sixth goal of the season to send his squad and a partisan crowd home happy.
Following the match, Rickard praised his team’s effort, saying, “I’m very proud of the hard work and effort today in a real dogfight. Vanguard is a tremendous team with great depth. The game could have gone either way and both teams did a lot of good things. I was very impressed with our defense and Cunningham that shut out a very talented team.”
Riding the wave of a three-match winning streak and playing with sky-high confidence, the Mustangs want to keep playing but the schedule gives them a week’s rest before they travel to La Mirada on September 28 to tangle with 11th-ranked Biola.