COSTA MESA — Vanguard University men's soccer coach Randy Dodge said his players did their jobs Wednesday to help the Lions record a 3-0 Golden State Athletic Conference victory over visiting Point Loma Nazarene.
Doing their job has been more difficult than it appeared on Wednesday for the Lions, because those jobs have been changing virtually game-by-game.
Injuries, red-card suspensions and other factors have created a fluid lineup for Dodge, who has had just one player, junior defender Chris Marvin, start all 13 games this season.
"We haven't put our best 11 players on the field in 13 games," said Dodge, whose team has still managed to post a 9-4 record, 3-1 in conference. The No. 23-ranked Lions sit in third place with nine points (three for a win and one for a tie), behind GSAC co-leaders Concordia (ranked No. 9) and Fresno Pacific (both with 4-0 conference marks).
The Lions have won six of their last seven, due largely to the return to health of junior striker Kevin Cornwall.
Cornwall scored twice Wednesday, including a penalty kick in the 36th minute to break the scoreless tie. The native of Dublin, Ireland who had 16 goals and three assists in 21 games to earn NAIA All-American honors last season, his first at Vanguard after transferring in from the University of San Diego, has notched the game-winning goal in all three conference wins in 2011. He has seven goals in the last six games since rehabilitating a shoulder injury that limited his playing time early.
Cornwall, who has four game-winning goals this season and 12 in his 32-game Vanguard career, missed two games and played only limited minutes in five others, two of which he did not start, Dodge said.
There is crystal clarity regarding Cornwall's job, which is to pepper the net with shots that both dazzle the crowd and confound opposing goalkeepers.
Cornwall just missed on a left-footed bicycle kick early in the contest and his second goal, a bending shot into the upper-right corner from 30 yards in front, would have made David Beckham blush with pride.
"He's one of the best players in the NAIA," Dodge said of Cornwall, who now shares the team goal lead with fellow returning All-American Kyle O'Brien, a junior midfielder, and sophomore midfielder Nikola Ilich. "He's a pure goal scorer. He has three game-winners in our four conference games and in the game we lost, he hit the cross bar twice and missed a one-and-one opportunity, or he would have been four for four."
O'Brien, who came off the bench for the first time this season Wednesday, leads the team with 20 points. He had 11 goals and seven assists last season.
Ilich, who had an assist on Cornwall's second goal against Point Loma (7-4-1, 1-3) and has started just nine games, now has 16 points to rank third on the team.
Vanguard, who posted a 20-5 advantage in shots and required just one save from senior goalkeeper Cody Adams to record his fourth shutout, displayed its admirable depth against the Sea Lions. The hosts used 21 players, nine of whom registered shots.
Junior midfielder Chris Popke scored without an assist in the 57th minute, to become the ninth Lion to find the net this season.
"We're the deepest team in the conference," said Dodge, whose Lions visit Fresno Pacific on Saturday at 7 p.m. "The thing is, can we put ourselves in a where that depth can win us a conference championship, the conference tournament and get us into nationals?"
Vanguard advanced to the NAIA Tournament for the first time last season, when it's 14-8 record included five victories and one tie that were forfeited for the use of an ineligible player.
The Lions were without senior captain Jack Plummer (sitting out the first half of his two-game suspension after getting a red card) and junior defender and UNLV transfer Sam Nicholson (whose knee injury may sideline him until he end of the month).
"I thought we were very professional," Dodge said of Wednesday's effort. "We were by far the best team and we handled it. We didn't let any shenanigans happen."
The starting back line of Marvin, sophomore Josh Banta, junior Marvin Devia and senior Billy Pellow helped insure that Point Loma came away scoreless.