UC Irvine, ranked 20th, went into Saturday night’s game against 13th-ranked UC Santa Barbara as underdogs, but ended up silencing a hostile UCSB crowd, walking away with a very important 3-1 upset.
Spencer Thompson put the dagger into the hearts of the hometown faithful with a game clinching break away goal in the 90th minute. After beating the entire back line to the ball, he effortlessly chipped the keeper and before the ball hit the net, he was already at the UCI stands celebrating as his team went up 3-1. He knew, along with the entire stadium, that Anteaters had beat the conference juggernaut and first-place Gauchos at home with 54 seconds to go.
Thompson had been shut down for most of the night as he was the focus of the UCSB defense. Every time Thompson got the ball, two defenders would fly in, cleats up, and wrestle the ball away. Toward the end of the game, Gaucho defender Alfonso Motagalvan gave Thompson a cheap push only to receive a punishing tackle by Thompson just a few minutes later. But the battle ended with Thompson getting the last laugh and UCI walking away from the physical game with a much needed win.
At the start of the game, UCI came out slow and slightly timid against UCSB giving up a goal in the fifth minute by the Gaucho’s Peter McGlynn. Going up one, UCSB had the swagger and confidence that they would take the game easily. But UCI was not intimidated and brought its level of intensity up and they took the physical play in the game into their hands. As soon as the tackles favored the Anteaters, they wasted no time in getting momentum on their side.
“We had a goal scored on us early, and it kind of woke us up,” said UCI Head Coach George Kuntz. “You can’t come into a place like this and just roll over [but] we stepped it up after that goal. It was very important for us to get a little more energy and a little more physical, and that was the difference.”
The change in approach was effective immediately. In the 34th minute, Irving Garcia put UCI on the board with a full volley goal from the top of the 18 off of a cross from Kevin Santora. The goal not only tied up the game, but gave the Anteaters the confidence that they needed to play with the 13th-ranked Gauchos.
UCI’s confidence was only reinforced as Grey Bailey put the go-ahead goal in the 38th minute, putting UCI up 2-1. The student section for the Gauchos, nicknamed the “The Locos,” were silenced after the goal and as the halftime whistle blew, they sat down, stumped as to how Bailey just put the Anteaters up by one.
“I was surprised [at] how wide open I was,” Bailey said of his goal. “It felt great to score a goal here. In front of this huge crowd it felt really good to get that goal. This is the first time in UCI career we have won here and [it] feels great. It was pretty crazy tonight, ” Bailey said.
The win improves 20th-ranked UCI to 10-1-6 overall, and 3-1-4 in Big West play. The team got over a hump on Saturday night after a slew of ties in league play and will attempt to add to the win total on Wednesday night at home against UC Riverside.
UCI 3 CSUF 1
UC Irvine men’s soccer team put on a beautiful display of soccer as the Anteaters conquered the Cal State Fullerton Titans 2-1.
The match opened up with an ensemble of attacks on both sides of the pitch. Within the first three minutes of play, both teams managed to create opportunities, take shots on goal and earn a few corner kicks. Fortunately, it was the Anteaters who struck first.
Junior midfielder Irving Garcia was able to squeeze his way through the Titan defense in the fourth minute of play. His low, powerful cross from the left side of the field was put away in the goal by a sliding Fullerton defender who was unable to clear Garcia’s ball.
Despite taking the early 1-0 lead, Irvine’s level of intensity seemed to plateau, providing Fullerton the opportunity to regroup.
It did not take long for the tenacious Titans to find their way back into the match. Fullerton almost found the back of the net in the fifth minute after earning a corner kick. Covering the near post, Irvine midfielder Rafael Macedo was able to clear the ball off the goal line, preventing Fullerton from scoring the equalizer. Recognizing that Fullerton was not going to let an own goal affect their game plan, the Anteaters needed to neutralize the Titans’ “all or nothing” mentality.
“When you are playing a team that is down and out, they got nothing to lose; they play for everything. It’s like a hurt dog that’s cornered; it’s just going to keep fighting until it’s got nothing left,” said Irvine Head Coach George Kuntz.
In the 24th minute of play, the ‘Eaters spotted the Achilles’ heel in the Fullerton defense. The Titan right defensive players seemed to give Irvine forwards a lot of room to operate. Taking advantage of this weakness, senior Matt Murphy chipped a beautiful ball to sophomore striker Spencer Thompson who then powered his way into the penalty box and blasted a shot just inside the right post.
UCI dictated the majority of the first half, but the Titans were not going to end the period without a goal. In the 37th minute of play, Irvine defender David Sias committed a foul just inside the penalty box. The referee awarded a penalty kick which was taken with ease by Titan midfielder Michael Denny.
The second half opened up with a string of Fullerton attacks. The ‘Eaters defensive back had trouble clearing the ball at times, but they managed to keep it out of their net.
UCI had a number of good looks on goal throughout the period. Carlos Aguilar found teammate Rafael Macedo in the 50th minute of play. Aguilar’s cross from the left side of the pitch was trapped beautifully by Macedo using his chest to place the ball and take a shot on goal. Unfortunately, he was not able to capitalize.
With just under two minutes remaining, Fullerton gave UCI a bit of a scare after Titan defender T.J Detviler almost tied up the game, but Irvine managed to close out the match on top.
“When you have opportunities and momentum you just got to execute, and that’s what we did tonight. We were able to defend our home turf and get those three points,” Kuntz said.
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