Coming off a tough two-game road trip, which included a last -second tie to UC Davis and a deflating loss to UC Santa Barbara, the UC Irvine men’s soccer team returned home to continue Big West play against first-place Cal State Northridge.
While the Anteaters were looking to get back on track and continue their strong play that had led to an 8-2-2 start, the Matadors would have none of it as they scored two goals within the first 10 minutes and never relinquished the lead, defeating the Anteaters 4-1 Wednesday night at Anteater Stadium.
Right from the start it was obvious that UCI was a little more pumped up than usual, coming out onto the field attacking the ball every opportunity they had. While the energy was exciting for the crowd, the aggressiveness led to a breakdown in the Anteater defense when Matador forward Sunghyun Kim slipped behind the Irvine defense for a one-on-one breakaway against UCI goalie Kenny Schoeni.
Schoeni made a valiant effort, diving to his right and deflecting a piece of the shot, but it was not enough as the ball escaped his grasp and trickled into the net, giving Cal State Northridge the early 1-0 lead in the seventh minute.
Obviously shaken by the early goal, UCI seemed to press as they got away from their strategy and attempted to push the tempo to tie the game. This again led to another breakdown in the Anteater defense as the Matadors used a combination of two crosses to get Schoeni out of position and finished the play with a goal by forward Fergie Agwu off a rebound in the box, pushing the lead to 2-0 at the 8-minute and 48-second mark in the first half.
‘Coming off the Santa Barbara loss, we came out with a mindset of wanting to get to a fast start,’ said sophomore defender Matt Murphy. ‘Then they got that first goal and it let the wind out of our sails a little bit. Then when that second goal came, I think we were just a little shell-shocked.’
‘Shell-shocked’ was an understatement for how the Anteaters played in the first half, as they just could get nothing going on offense and seemed to be continuously dodging bullets on the defensive end. Despite failing to put a shot on goal until almost the 40th minute of the first half and having to watch numerous Matador shots sail just inches over the cross bar, UCI was feeling very fortunate to get into the half only down two goals.
‘We thought that first goal came off a hand ball, so that shook us up a little bit, and then they got the second a minute later and you could tell that our focus was off,’ said head coach George Kuntz on his team’s lackluster play in the first half. ‘At halftime we just tried to get our focus back on track and do a better job in possessing the ball and attacking in the final period.’
Attack they did, as a completely different UCI team came out storming in the second half. With the ball seemingly on the Northridge side for much of the second half, UCI sent wave upon wave of attacks on the Matador goal as they tried to get back into the game. UCI finally was able to crack the Northridge defense when senior middle Anthony Hamilton took a rebound off of a free kick by Murphy and buried the ball in the back of the net, cutting the deficit to 2-1 and putting some life into the Anteater crowd.
The next several minutes saw multiple attacks by the Anteaters, with sophomore middle Raphael Macedo, senior forward Brad Evans and junior forward Rudy Mondragon all pressing the ball into the Matador goal box and looking for that elusive game-tying score.
Despite having what seemed like all of the momentum on their side and the offensive attack working in their favor, UCI was dealt a crushing blow to their comeback bid when Sean Franklin of Cal State Northridge scored unassisted on a shot from the top right of the box to push their lead back to 3-1. The Anteater offense could not muster any other real threats the rest of the night, and Northridge would later add a garbage-time goal in the 83rd minute giving them a convincing victory 4-1. The Anteaters play CSUN one more time on Nov. 4.
Falling to 8-3-2 and 3-2 in conference, UCI will be looking to get back to their early winning ways.
With the recent slump, the men’s team will have to overtake both UC Santa Barbara and CSUN in the standings if they hope to capture first place in the Big West Conference.
The team will have their fate in their own hands as they still have a game remaining against both UCSB and CSUN in the upcoming weeks.