The Grand Canyon men’s soccer team, ranked No. 25 in the United Soccer Coaches poll and No. 12 in NCAA Rating Percentage Index, is playing host to Denver for the first round of the NCAA tournament at GCU Stadium on Thursday at 7 p.m.
THREE THINGS TO KNOW
LOPES HOST 1ST NCAA TOURNAMENT GAME: The men’s soccer team is the first Division I-era GCU program selected to host the first round of an NCAA tournament. This is the second consecutive NCAA tournament appearance and third in the last four seasons for the Lopes. In 2019, GCU fell at UC Irvine on penalty kicks. This spring (for the 2020 season), the Lopes dropped a first-round match to Washington in North Carolina.
NATIONAL STATUS: GCU ranks fifth nationally in goals (44), seventh in save percentage (.811), ninth in total assists (44), 10th in winning percentage (.816), 11th in points per game (6.95), 12th in goal differential (plus-26), 13th in goals per game (2.32) and 23rd in shots per game (14.95).
1ST DI MATCHUP WITH DENVER: This is the first Division I matchup between GCU and Denver. The last time they faced off was on Sept. 7, 1996, when the Lopes won 3-2 at home.
Denver (9-3-5) is coming off Summit League regular-season and tournament championships.
The Pioneers tied their last three matches, with the last two coming in the Summit League Tournament. In both matches, Denver came out on top after winning in penalty kicks.
GCU and Denver had two common opponents this season: Air Force and Oregon State. The Lopes beat No. 1 NCAA tournament seed Oregon State 1-0 while the Pioneers fell 3-0 to the Beavers. GCU dropped the match against Air Force 2-1 but Denver beat Air Force 1-0.
Jamie Franks is in his seventh season as head coach for the Pioneers and has collected an 82-29-18 record. Denver ranks No. 14 in the country in goals against average (0.771).
The Pioneers’ leading goal scorer is Lukas Fisher with four goals. Stefan DeLeone and Kengo Ohira follow right behind with three apiece, then Destan Norman and Trevor Wright with two each. Five Pioneers have scored one goal.
LAST TIME OUT
GCU was less than four minutes away from claiming the WAC Tournament championship title. A late rally by Seattle U swiped that chance away after scoring two goals within 78 seconds and fending off the Lopes in two overtimes for a 2-2 tie.
The WAC Tournament championship and an NCAA tournament automatic berth went to Seattle U via penalty kicks (4-3).
The Lopes dominated the action with a 23-11 advantage in shots, including no Seattle overtime shots and a 9-4 GCU edge in shots on goal.
The scoreboard reflected that edge for most of the game to the delight of a WAC Tournament record crowd of 1,192 fans. The Lopes controlled possession while remaining aggressive on the attack in the first half, but the opportunities did not break a scoreless tie for the first 36 minutes.
Hugo Logan scored the Lopes’ first goal of the match with an assist from Alejandro Fernandez Alcaide. The Lopes’ second goal came in the 86th minute as Marco Afonso chipped the ball and Shaun-Chris Joash booted it at the goal line to ensure the 2-0 lead.
Joash, Esai Easley and Rey Gaytan were selected to the WAC All-Tournament team.
A win would make the men’s soccer program the first GCU team to make it past the first round of the NCAA Division I tournament and set up a 7 p.m. Sunday game at No. 8 seed Clemson.