It was a different story for the Matadors as they were in desperate need of this win to earn the fourth and final spot in the playoff tournament. Cal State Northridge opened the match with intensity as they scored their first goal within the first three minutes of play. Matador midfielder Sunghyun Kim managed to open up the left side of the pitch after getting by two UC Irvine defenders and sent a low cross to teammate Devin Deldo who needed only one touch to nestle the ball into the back of the net.
Stunning both the players and fans, Northridge continued to demonstrate poise under pressure as they put away another goal in the 11th minute of play. This time it was Kim who got his name on the score sheet after the Matadors were able to once again make a promising run down the left side of the pitch, crossing the ball which again required only one touch to get past the keeper.
The scoring clinic continued as Northridge capitalized on yet another opportunity in the 21st minute. Struggling to clear the ball out of the back field, the Anteaters managed to give the ball away to midfielder Dylan Riley, in dangerous territory, who then found teammate Deldo who earned his second goal of the match.
The ’Eaters continued to struggle to get any momentum going on the offensive end, and continued to make mental errors on the defensive side of the pitch.
“I explained the importance of this game to the guys three times this week,” Head Coach George Kuntz said. “I told them that Northridge was going to come out with fire, and that is exactly what they did. Our guys just came out flat. They were able to pressure our defense extremely well tonight, and normally we do a good job of dealing with pressure, but the guys just played a little bit slower than they normally do, and we got caught by it.”
Whenever an Irvine player gained control of the ball, a swarm of Matadors would quickly surround him, forcing the turnover. The Matadors continued to create opportunities through quick and crisp passes. The only thing crisp about Irvine’s game was the weather.
The second half showed signs of improvement for the Anteaters, but by the time they managed to recognize that they were capable of beating the team they had shutout earlier this season by a three goal margin, it was too late. The Matadors even received two red cards in the second half, but were able to play defensively to hold on to the shutout.
“We responded slowly to everything, and that doesn’t normally happen to us,” Kuntz said. “When we beat [Northridge] earlier this season, we were 0 in 2 in conference play and our backs were up against the wall. We had to play with a sense of urgency then, and we did. This time it was Northridge who had their backs against the wall.”
With little time to prepare for the post season, the Anteaters need to find a way to get back into their normal rhythm of play. Although the loss did not have a detrimental effect on the team in the sense of tournament play, a loss is a loss, and emotions tend to run high after huge shut-outs in your home stadium.
Irvine will need to play with the same level of intensity that they utilized to beat the Matadors in October, from the moment they step onto to the pitch on Wednesday.
Because of the loss, UCI drops to the third seed in the playoffs and loses home field advantage. They now have to travel to play Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in the Big West semi-final game at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 11.
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