If you have trouble finding the Anteater Stadium, you would not have been confused on Saturday night, Oct. 29th, when the UC Irvine Men’s Soccer team defeated Cal Poly 4-2.
Fans arrived early for both teams, with trick-or-treaters in the back and golden ball enthusiasts in the front.
The action in the game also began rather quickly as the Anteaters surprised the Mustangs with unmatchable speed and precise passes.
The UCI offense launched strong attacks with frequent passes between junior forward Brad Evans, senior midfielder Chris Klotz and junior midfielder Brandon Tario. Cal Poly’s keeper, sophomore Jeremy Coupe, proved to be a serious obstacle, coming out of the box to challenge the Anteaters and kicking several fiery balls to distant Mustangs.
Shortly after the half began, some crowding in the box got the Anteaters a free shot. Although the free kick went through Cal Poly’s defensive wall, the sound of the ball hitting the post echoed sharply in the stadium. Following the scare, the Mustangs tried to match the Anteater’s advances but came up short.
Evans scored the game’s first goal off a perfect cross from sophomore defender Brandon Foster. Fueled by the score and the noticeably more determined Mustang offense, UCI moved the ball up field with heavy momentum. Tario escorted the ball up the sideline with quick, short footwork that stumped the opponent. Tario constantly delayed until Mustangs crowded around him to set up a shot at the center. Not long after the first goal, junior defender Doug Franco displayed fancy footwork of his own, maneuvering the ball to safety.
Soon after, junior midfielder Anthony Hamilton broke through the clumsy Mustangs to secure Irvine’s second goal of the night. In response to the Anteater’s hustle, the Mustangs ran harder, trying to rise out of their deficit. Their unique approach consisted of regular inclusion of the keeper, Coupe, who always stepped out further than expected to clear potential Anteater attacks. Coupe opened up the field by sending the ball well into the UCI side of the field. Cal Poly failed to accomplish much against Irvine’s tight defense and equally bold keeper, senior Ryan Mathy.
As the teams struggled for power over field position in the first half, Cal Poly fouled eight times and UCI fouled nine. The first half concluded with a fine goal by Hamilton off a cross from a recovering Vitagliano, who was among the injured at the beginning of the season. Throughout the first half, the team’s offense and defense merged in an efficient attack that left little room for trespasses from the Mustangs.
Irvine’s second half was less structured than the first one. While efforts to keep the opponent off the scoreboard continued, the atmosphere became more hostile. The Mustangs managed to dominate on the Anteater side for the remainder of the match. ‘They were trying to get goals and they were throwing a lot of players at us,’ said UCI Head Coach George Kuntz.
Comfortable in their lead, the Anteaters did not respond in time to a threat from the Mustangs as they managed their first goal just minutes after the start of the second half.
‘We went in attack-minded during the second half instead of defense-minded,’ Kuntz said.
Irvine struggled, realizing that the two-goal lead might be erased. Tension creeped in as the Cal Poly crowd urged the referee to make more calls in favor of the Mustangs.
After many attacks, Cal Poly scored a second goal with enough time for more. Fortunately, Irvine seized enough of the opponent’s momentum balls to turn the game around.
‘We got some of the older guys in toward the end and I think that helped get everybody confident again,’ Hamilton said.
After a few experimental player rotations, Irvine got serious enough to score its fourth goal as Hamilton finished up a series of short passes with a blast powerful enough to leave the crowd cheering in excitement.
‘I am very proud of the team. We are having longer periods of time where the team is performing very well,’ Kuntz said. The 4-2 victory gave UCI an impressive conference record of 4-1-1.
‘We’re playing really solid right now. The team is really coming together at the end of the season and that’s the way it has to be,’ Tario said.
UCI’s next home game will be against UC Davis on Nov. 2.
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