The goal is without question the most exciting aspect in soccer. It is often such a rare feat that it is celebrated with all the gusto of winning a championship.
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It is also an art form for those talented enough to be masters of the goal. They come in many forms, sometimes off a head, other times the bicycle kick mesmerizes us, while others are simply golden. Here's a look at five of the more exciting goal scorers in DII soccer this season.
WATCH: Julian Stewart's bicycle kick may be DII goal of the year
The record setter
California Baptist has yet to lose this season. Sitting at a perfect 12-0-2, the Lancers are fueled by one of DII soccer's best offenses, scoring 3.15 goals per match. That mark is in large part due to their record-setting senior forward Aidan Apodaca.
Spoke to Aidan Apodaca, the NCAA leader in goals scored. (video cred: California Baptist Athletics) pic.twitter.com/Ou0Ik3EM0K— Wayne Cavadi (@UofDWayne) October 25, 2017
Apodaca leads the nation in goals with 25, averaging nearly two a match. It is a breakout for the senior, who had 19 total goals in his three years with the Lancers prior to this season.
"I believe what makes someone a prolific goal scorer is the ability to have short term memory," Apodaca said. "What I feel is different this year than ones previous is not dwelling on the misses and mistakes, taking every opportunity. If the ball doesn't go the way you want it to, so what. It also helps to have an amazing group of guys that believe in you and lift you up, none of this would be possible without any of them."
His remarkable season sees him shatter program records seemingly on a weekly basis. His 25 goals and 42 points are program single-season records. Earlier this season Apodaca set the single-game record with a five-goal performance against Northwest Nazarene. The Lancers won that match 5-0. It was just another day at the office, scoring thrilling goal after thrilling goal.
"Scoring a goal will never get old," Apodaca said. "I always get eager and excited to score and when it happens I feel like a kid again. My favorite goal this year would have to be my second against Fresno Pacific. Scoring the first and then coming back to the half line ready to grind it out for the last few minutes. Fifty seconds go by and I score again to lock in the win. I was so happy I slid about 10 yards to celebrate with the whole team, who was just as happy as I was."
California Baptist sat atop the West in the first release of the NCAA regional rankings. With four regular season games remaining and an all but certain birth in the NCAA postseason, you can be sure to see more records fall at the hands, or feet, of Apodaca.
Charleston (WV) is a regular atop the DII soccer rankings the past few seasons. Last year, the Golden Eagles made it to the national championship game, where they wound up falling to Wingate 2-0. This year, they have been on a clear mission to get back to Kansas City, a perfect 15-0 and the No. 1 team in DII.
Will Roberts is a big reason why.
Will Roberts is the MEC Men's Soccer Offensive Player of the Week! #FlyUChttps://t.co/fZTEwgDonR pic.twitter.com/a37pkiboLD— Golden Eagles (@ucwv_athletics) October 9, 2017
The senior forward is arguably the best all-around player in DII. He's at the very least one of the most consistent. Roberts scored 21 goals in both his sophomore and junior seasons, and currently has 11 with two regular season games and the postseason left on the slate. His 71 career goals are second most amongst active goal scorers across every division of NCAA play, and tops in DII. He's been on fire of late, with seven goals in his last six games.
"As an attacking player, you thrive on game-winning goals and helping your team," Roberts told NCAA.com. "So, if my teammates look towards me in times of need, then I'll give everything I can to not let them down."
Roberts' list of accolades will be endless by the time he leaves Charleston. The Mountain East Conference 2014 freshman of the year and 2015 player of the year hopes to add one more before it's all over and raise the national championship in 2017.
The game winners
Cal Poly Pomona finds itself in the middle of a tightly-contested West Region. The Broncos already have 13 wins this season. Eight of those wins have come off the foot of Sergi Monso.
Congrats to Sergi Monso for earning his third CCAA Player of the Week award this season! #wearecpp pic.twitter.com/Jyv59w3CJ6— CPP Bronco Athletics (@cppbroncos) October 17, 2017
That's pretty darn impressive. Monso is responsible for over 60 percent of the Broncos wins, and they are hoping he has some more left in the tank. The 2016 All-American leads the California Collegiate Athletic Accosiation in goals and assists, while his eight-game winners are tied for the most in all of NCAA soccer. While he is clearly a menace to opposing goal keepers at all times, when the game is on the line, there may be no one else you want firing the ball on net.
Colorado School of Mines and Colorado Mesa are in a close battle at the top of Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. With just two games left to decide a regular season champion before the RMAC tournament begins, junior forward John Haist picked the right time to go on a hot streak. Haist is third in DII with 17 goals, leading the RMAC in both goals and points. His last two goals have been game-winners, the most recent coming in double-overtime.
RECAP: Haist's 2OT winner powers #MinesMSOC past Fort Lewis and onto the verge of the RMAC title https://t.co/uvly0RqlW3 pic.twitter.com/Qbj6JdibPs— Mines Athletics (@MinesAthletics) October 22, 2017
That gives Haist seven game winning goals on the season, in a log-jam for second-best in DII. Currently 15th in the United Soccer Coaches poll, the Orediggers will look to Haist and his clutch foot come the postseason.
The sophomore sensation
The District of Columbia Firebirds are having one of the best seasons in program's history. They clinched their first East Coast Conference tournament spot, recently finding themselves in their first-ever regional rankings, placing seventh in the stacked East region.
Sophomore Gabriel Torres is the reason why.
The midfielder/defenseman is one of the best all-around players in the division. He leads the East Coast Conference in nearly every offensive category, earning three ECC Player of the Week Awards already on the season.
Torres and Aguirre of @UDCAthletics and Yusuff of @STACSpartans take home ECC MSOC weekly awards. https://t.co/WsFd353FgG pic.twitter.com/AqUqPNwGgj— EastCoastConference (@ECCSports) September 18, 2017
In his freshman debut, Torres registered 19 points. That's how many goals he's already scored this season. That's good for second in DII, but he is also one of the more well-rounded players. His nine assists place him in the Top 5. Only Apodaca's 49 points trump his 47 atop the DII leaderboard.
The Firebirds don't want to see this historic run end. They will need to improve their regional ranking to lock up a spot in the NCAA postseason. You can be sure that Torres' magic touch will have to be the one to get them there.
Honorable mentions: Dylan Armstong of St. Edwards has nine goals this season; seven have been winners. Juwon Akintunde of West Virginia Wesleyan has been a goal scoring machine with 16, tying himself with Marek Weber of Le Moyne for fifth-best in DII.