Menlo Men’s Soccer – 2016 Conference Champions!

Menlo Men's Soccer - 2016 Conference Champions

For the first time in the last four games, the Menlo College Men’s Soccer team did not need more than 90 minutes to pick up a win. It just so happened to be the biggest win of the season, biggest win since joining the conference, and arguably the biggest win in program history as the Oaks downed the top-seeded Westmont Warriors 2-1 on the campus of Biola University on Saturday. The Oaks struck first with an Erik Emanuelsson goal in the 12th minute, Westmont countered in the 24th and Luis Nunezgot the game winner in the 32nd. That’s the short of it, the long of it unveiled a host of story lines that saw Menlo once again overcome adversity and battle to their program-best 15th win of the season. The Oaks officially punched their ticket to the NAIA National Championships for the first time since 2011 while improving to 15-4-1 overall. Westmont, who shared the regular season title with Menlo, fell to 11-5-1.

The game started in a very similar fashion as Thursday’s semifinal win over Vanguard as the Oaks got a goal early in the first half to set the tone for the day. This time it was Erik Emanuelsson who worked off a ball dumped into the box from the right side by Ryan Onizuka. The goal was Emanuelsson’s 10th of the season which, at the time, tied him for the team lead. Westmont, who defeated the Oaks 3-0 back on October 20, was not to be denied however and they found the equalizer in the 24th minute to set up a wacky end to the first half.

With just over 31 minutes remaining Emanuelsson was tackled and took exception to it and confronted the defender to the tune of his first career red card. The card forced Menlo to play a man down for the remainder of the game which seemed like a daunting task until just a few seconds later when some breathing room was created. The breathing room came in the form of a Luis Nunez goal, his second of the tournament and team-best 11th of the season. It came off a free kick that was delivered to a waiting Nunez by none other than Ryan Onizuka. Onizuka recently broke the career assists record with his tally on Thursday and he created some distance in that category with two more on Saturday, moving his season total to seven and career total to 21.

From that point forward Menlo was forced to change its strategy with the man down. In the first half the Oaks fired off nine shots, in the second they managed just four but three of them were on frame. Westmont, as expected, peppered Menlo with shots and finished with 12 in the second half alone and 21 in the game.  Despite the fervent Warrior attack, Menlo continued to fend off shot after shot and free kick after free kick on their way to the championship.

The GSAC tournament crown was the first of its kind for Menlo athletics which joined the conference in 2015-16. Menlo will compete in the opening round on November 19 at a site to be determined. First round pairings will be announced on Monday at 10 a.m. The live selection show can be viewed by clicking here.