I hate sports. Watching the UC Irvine men’s soccer team fall to St. John’s on Saturday in below 40-degree weather in Queens, NY just reminded me how lame sports can be.
We did not deserve to lose. One could argue that St. John’s controlled the first half because they dominated possession. However, the UCI defense, which has been solid all season long, never allowed the Red Storm a solid crack at the goal. Their lone first half goal came from a blocked free kick that went back to another St. John’s player with a difficult name to pronounce, who crossed the ball across the net to a crashing forward who headed the ball into the net. St. John’s only had four shots on goal in the half. UCI had just as many despite never really sustaining full control of the ball for an extended period of time.
The second half was all the Anteaters, until of course the soccer gods went against us. We out-shot St. John’s 11-5 on the half, and seemed to have weathered the Red Storm as the ball was pushed onto the St. John’s side for much of the second half.
The shots just didn’t go our way, and a team with the talent like St. John’s will capitalize on the handful of opportunities that are presented to them.
But still, it isn’t fair. Soccer is the only sport where one team can dominate, and the scoreboard in the end will do no justice.
The worst part of the loss as a fan is seeing the players who were the victims of this fate on the field in tears. It was their hard work, blood and sweat that were directly affected. I just had the attachment as a fan who was associated by community and by the relationships built covering the team throughout the year.
This was truly a special squad. Each player had their own unique personality that gelled so well together to build a camaraderie that I have only seen with the Anteater baseball and volleyball teams.
Andrew Fontein was the freshman who had no idea how good he was or how bright his future looked. The kid does not even watch soccer in his free time. He’s just a kid enjoying the college experience and not letting it get to his head.
David Sias was perhaps the most overlooked player on the team. He bursted onto the scene this season when he was finally honored for his stellar play on defense with a Big West Defender of the Year award. He was the backbone of the UCI defense, and was like a wall on the field. No one could get past him. Moreover, his selection as captain was a testament to his inspiring play and leadership.
Spencer Thompson stole the headlines with his dynamic play up top, scoring goal after goal. But it was the other member of the Dynamic Duo, Amani Walker, who kept his head up and was persistent. It was so satisfying to see him finally get the goals he was waiting for in the most important games of the season.
Another player with a similar ascension was Irving Garcia. The well-decorated midfielder from the powerhouse junior college program in Yavapai College in Arizona just knows how to win. He recorded at least a point in each of the last seven UCI games, which included the Big West Tournament and NCAA Tournament. He had seven points in just two NCAA games. You can tell that he enjoys playing the game. He is truly a magician with the ball, and has me thankful that we have him for another season.
There are a plethora of other great stories that I have not mentioned, but are just as inspiring and as feel-good as those above. However, the greatest of this season has to be of senior Matt Murphy.
From being a player who did not even know if he was going to play soccer in college to finishing as the career points leader at UCI, Murphy’s career has been phenomenal. He is the paragon of hard work translating into success. He was the Big West Midfielder of the Year as a sophomore, but what stuck with him the most that season was the NCAA Tournament snubbing.
It seemed as if that was as good a chance as any for a UCI team to make the tournament. That thought stuck further with him as the team finished dead last in the Big West the following season. He never gave up, and only worked harder. It paid off, as his final year was the greatest in program history. He finished on the All Big West Tournament First Team yet again, and brought UCI its first ever Big West regular season and tournament titles. Above all, he fulfilled the dream that was taken from him his sophomore year and won in the NCAA tournament. Good luck in the pros, Matt.
And finally, congratulations to Coach George Kuntz. He finally achieved the dream he sought in his long tenure at UCI. He built a program from the bottom, and brought it up to the top. After being overshadowed by UC Santa Barbara and seeing its program become the pride of the Big West, Coach Kuntz finally strung the right formula together to take that title from the Gauchos. Above all, he brought us respect. He is truly a class act, and one of the greatest people I have met in the athletics department. None of the success means more to anyone than to Coach Kuntz.
Aside from the individual stories, the UCI men’s soccer team brought the campus together. and not just by winning. The men’s volleyball and baseball teams gave us something to be proud of and talk about with their national success, but the men’s soccer team actually got the campus engaged. They would stop and talk to supporters and fellow students on campus, and had the ingenious idea of selling their retro jersey at a great college price of $10 each. Those hot-selling jerseys brought the fans out to the games, had them follow the team and brought the campus together. They also brought me more readers. Respect.
Looking back and remembering all these stories and the joys the team brought us this season has me forgetting about the loss.
Although soccer was cruel to us on our last day, soccer brought us happiness, family and respect.
I take it back; I love sports.
Filed Under: Sports