After an amazing 2006-07 season, the UC Irvine men’s soccer team looked to carry its success into the post-season. However, those dreams were shattered when it was snubbed by the selection committee.
UCI was second in the Big West to UC Santa Barbara, even beating UCSB at home once. Many Anteater hopeful were left scratching their heads at what could have been when they discovered that UCSB went on to win the NCAA title.
The biggest losses for the team were forwards Brad Evans (Columbus Crew) and Anthony Hamilton (Chivas USA). Each of them carried the Anteater attack all season, and it rightfully made offense the biggest concern for 13th-year Head Coach George Kuntz.
However, Kuntz immediately addressed the problem with the best recruiting class in his 13 years in the program.
Headlining the class are freshman forwards Spencer Thompson and Amani Walker, who each already have two goals. These two look to replace Evans and Hamilton and be associated with UCI soccer for years to come.
The Anteaters return junior midfielder Matt Murphy, who was Big West Midfielder of the Year last season. Also returning are junior midfielders Shane Westbrook and Rafael ‘Pollo’ Macedo, and the anchor on defense is senior Brandon Foster.
All of the players above have contributed to and can be credited with the torrid start of the 2007-08 campaign (5-1-0). UCI began the season with a five-game winning streak, most recently against San Jose State.
The Anteaters lost Friday night to Loyola Chicago University 1-0 in the second overtime period, bringing the only blemish on their record so far.
The most telling victory of the season came last Sunday against a visiting San Jose State team (3-3-0).
‘This team was a very good team. They are an older group, an experienced group. We have similar statistics. We are a young squad, so we needed this kind of match,’ Kuntz said.
As they have been doing all season, the Anteaters struck first and struck early. However, this time the defense connected on goal number one.
In the 10th minute, Macedo fielded an outlet corner kick pass to Foster on the opposite side, who crossed the ball beautifully to freshman defender Gray Bailey, who masterfully finished in the net for his first career goal.
The Anteater defense, led by Westbrook, looked like the strongest unit on the field, limiting San Jose State to four shots on the half.
The second half opened with the Anteaters continuing their strong play. In the 54th minute, the Anteaters got to show off their new type of corner kick play, except it was a monster throw-in from Bailey. Bailey’s throw found Walker’s head, who majestically headed it to Thompson’s sure feet, which drilled the ball into the back of the net for a 2-0 lead.
Unfortunately, the young Anteater squad could not retain the lead. The Spartans scored on two unassisted goals in the 56th and 69th minutes to equalize the match.
Captain Matt Murphy, a pre-season All-American, kept the squad focused and even showed his range with a cracking 25-yard shot in the 79th minute that was deflected by the keeper just wide.
Fortunately for the Anteaters, Bailey’s big throw-in proved troublesome again for the opponent as a Spartan defender mishandled the throw into the back of his own net. With the own goal, UCI took the win happily.
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