GCU’s Matchup vs. Top-Ranked Men’s Soccer Team a Gold-Star Game
Story by Bob Romantic
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau
Petar Draksin has a gold star affixed to his GCU soccer apparel.
The symbol is a tradition in soccer that represents a major championship victory, and it is one the Antelopes coach wears with pride to commemorate the national title GCU won in 1996.
On Friday night, Draksin will be staring across the field at a school with three stars on its lapel and a No. 1 national ranking for this season that makes it the favorite to add a fourth.
“To me, this is not just another game,” said Draksin, whose 19th-ranked team hosts top-ranked Fort Lewis College of Durango, Colo., at 8 p.m. Friday. “It’s a game we must win. If we don’t win, then we’ll look to the next game and fix the things we need to win that one. But we’ve got to win this one. … We know what it means to this program.”
Too much pressure for such a big game?
“It’s not pressure, it’s passion,” said Draksin, who certainly does not lack in that department and is hoping for a large crowd at Friday’s game that shares his enthusiasm.
“We love to play the game. And anything I love, there’s no pressure in it. Bring your passion, bring your sacrifice. With passion and sacrifice, anything is possible. We know we have a job to do. We must win that game Friday night.”
Grand Canyon has had plenty of passion so far this season, opening with nonconference victories over Colorado State-Pueblo and Sonoma State that drew the attention of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America in this week’s poll. The NSCAA ranked GCU No. 3 in the West Region and No. 19 in the nation.
“Being 2-0 is something we counted on,” Draksin said. “It would have been scary being anything different going against the No. 1 team in the country on Friday and the No. 5 team (Seattle Pacific) on the road Monday.”
The Antelopes have gotten to this point with stellar defense that is a trademark of Draksin teams, strong goalkeeping from Joshua Zehring and an offense led by Saeed Robinson and Yared Solscheid.
Robinson, who scored both goals in a 2-1 win over Sonoma State, is someone who is “All-American material and has the potential to go pro,” Draksin said. “He’s the man and people know about him, but he’s still scoring goals.
“With Yared (who had both assists vs. Sonoma State), I knew what I was getting when I first saw him. He is a machine. He has a great work ethic and great vision and is all over the field. He is our engine. He manages the flow of the game for us.”
Another player making a big impact is senior Alex Connally, who has been a vocal leader on the field.
Did you know? The last time GCU faced a No. 1-ranked team in men’s soccer was 2009, when the Antelopes opened the season against Cal State Dominguez Hills and beat the defending national champs 2-1.
“I wish I had five or six who were vocal like him,” Draksin said. “In my day, we had 11 guys who would yell and scream and be positive with each other. Now you’re lucky to have one or two. Today, a lot of people want to be in in charge, but nobody wants to take charge.”
Connelly will lead that charge against Fort Lewis and Seattle Pacific, capping a tough nonconference schedule in preparation for the rigors of a Pacific West Conference that Draksin said is eight or nine deep in quality teams.
“We set up an incredible schedule. You can’t win a national championship if you don’t do that,” Draksin said. “These games prepare you. Yeah, there’s a risk. You could go 0-4. But you know what? If you do, then you don’t deserve it and you’re not ready. You have to get ready for the following season.
“But when an opportunity comes to play the top-ranked teams and you don’t do it? That would be a shame.”
Contact Bob Romantic at 639.7611 or firstname.lastname@example.org.