Every team has one game which defines its season.
For the UC Irvine men’s soccer team, that game is against the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos at Anteater Stadium on Wednesday, Nov. 1.
Sitting in second place behind the Gauchos with only two games remaining in the season, the men’s team faces a must-win situation if they hope to capture the Big West Conference Title and advance to the NCAA Tournament.
The implications of the game are enormous. Win and the team regains first place in the conference. Lose and their season is over.
If both teams play to a tie on Wednesday, the playoff picture becomes a little bit fuzzier.
The Anteaters would then have to win their final game of the season against Cal State Northridge and hope that the Gauchos lose their final game against the UC Riverside Highlanders. With Riverside having won only one league game this year, the Anteaters should not be counting on any upsets from the Highlanders.
This brings us back to Wednesday’s all important match-up.
The Anteaters have already played the Gauchos once this year, losing 2-0. However, the team played without two of their best players. Both sophomore Matt Murphy and senior Brad Evans, who have combined for 16 goals on the season, were forced to sit out against the Gauchos because they were serving one-game suspensions for red cards in the previous game.
With Murphy and Evans back in action, the Anteaters (12-3-3, 5-2-1 Big West) will have their dynamic duo of goal scorers back in action along with senior Anthony Hamilton, who has scored eight goals on the season.
To put the importance of these three players in perspective, Murphy, Evans and Hamilton have scored 24 of the team’s 36 goals this season, accounting for two-thirds of the team’s total offense.
Offense was the problem for the men’s team when they first faced the Gauchos (11-6-0, 6-2-0) and were shut out with only one shot on goal. Hamilton was unable to create any offense in the absence of his two teammates and Santa Barbara handed UCI their first conference loss of the season.
The Anteaters’ defense has allowed their opponents, on average, to score only one goal a game this season and has posted seven shutouts. But for some reason, they were uncharacteristically sloppy on the defensive side of the ball against the Gauchos. Irvine was unable to stop Santa Barbara’s Nick Perera as he continuously penetrated his way through the Anteater defense, scoring both of the Gauchos’ goals.
With the season on the line and the Big West Title at stake, there is no question that Wednesday’s match-up is going to be a physical affair, as the winner of the game will be in the driver’s seat for a potential NCAA Tournament bid.
If the Anteaters win against UCSB, Irvine will control its own destiny heading into its match-up on the road against CSUN on Saturday Nov. 4.
Filed Under: Sports