WILMINGTON, N.C. – At the beginning of the season, head Fairfield men's soccer coach Carl Rees challenged senior Diego Casielles to score more goals this year. The midfielder has certainly shown that he has taken his coach's challenge to heart. For the second time in as many games, the midfielder tallied a game-winning goal with last night's version sending the Stags past ninth-ranked UNC-Wilmington in the first round of the UNCW Springhill Suites Classic.
"One of the challenges for him was to score more goals," Coach Rees said after the game. "He is good technically, but I wanted him to score more. He also showed great late game intelligence, drawing fouls to negate UNCW's counters and attacks."
Casielles, who tallied the Stags' second goal in the 2-1 win over Yale on September 3, was responsible for both goals last night. With the game scoreless late in the first half, Fairfield was awarded a free kick following a foul about 20 yards from goal. The midfielder stepped up to the ball and sent a shot that cleared the UNCW wall and caught the net just inside the near post for a 1-0 lead with 17 seconds remaining in the half. The goal was the first one allowed by UNCW after posting shutouts in its first four victories.
"He showed great technique on the set piece," Coach Rees said. "He sent the ball over the wall which was not easy from that area and had enough flash to get the shot past the keeper."
UNCW tied the game in the 54th minute on a snappy pass and go play that started with Shane Mecham making a run down the center of the field before sending a through ball to Emil Elveroth, who secured the ball inside the box and slipped a shot past the charging Fairfield goalkeeper to tie the score at 1-1.
Despite allowing the tying goal, Fairfield held its own and kept within itself collectively to turn away any additional pressure from the home team.
"They didn't crack after that goal," Coach Rees said. "Rather, they grew into the game and quickly got back on top of their game and earned confidence to press through. The team really showed good decision-making which led to the confidence to continue to attack."
The Stags took their time and were deliberate in their approach after the game by taking controlled risks that led to opportunities. In the 75th minute, UNCW was whistled for a foul on the right side of the box which led to a penalty kick. Casielles was charged with the task and rewarded his teammates with a shot that skirted past the diving goalkeeper for a 2-1 lead.
Fairfield's defense withstood the mounting pressure and attack from UNCW in the final 15 minutes with Gordon Botterill making several smart saves. The sophomore finished the game with six saves to keep the Stags in front until the game's end.
"I'm delighted for the lads because they earned it," Coach Rees said. "It means a lot to the older guys. It was a combination gritty and resilient performance that gave us a positive result."
When presented with an opportunity to play a top-10 team, the Stags have fared well against their nationally-ranked foes. In addition to tonights win, Fairfield has also picked up wins against other top programs including defeating sixth-ranked Loyola University in the 2008 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) championship game. Fairfield will return to action on Sunday for a noon match against the College of Charleston.