The score between the UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara Men’s Soccer teams on Friday, Oct. 14 did not reveal the better team in this Big West Conference match. Despite the 2-2 tie, the Anteaters remain undefeated in their conference after playing the No. 15 Gauchos tough.
‘You have to play with a lot of grit and guts and the players played that way tonight,’ said UCI Head Coach George Kuntz. ‘They’re a team with a high level of character.’
Big West player of the week, junior forward Brad Evans, squirted his teammates in the face with a water bottle before they stepped onto the playing field. When the recording of the national anthem played over the loud speakers the players shifted their feet and knees in anticipation.
The Anteaters kicked off and soon found themselves defending the Gauchos’ first attempt on goal. Junior sweeper Cameron Dunn executed on defense by heading the ball out and then jumping and kicking the ball midair on their second attempt when UCSB attacked with two shots.
‘There are a lot of teams that have a lot of hype,’ Dunn said. ‘We’re not gonna lay down for any team. We’re gonna put everything down on the line.’
With increased offensive threats by UCSB, the Anteaters stepped up their play. Senior midfielder Kit Vitagliano took the first shot for UCI but missed a goal by less than a foot.
Senior goalkeeper Ryan Mathy sacrificed his body to save the ball and knock a Gauchos forward off his feet. Minutes later, Dunn also caused a player to fall by shouldering the Santa Barbara player, ending his attempt to cross the ball into the goal.
Rapid shots were made on opposite ends seconds apart from each other in a surprising offensive battle started by junior forward Anthony Hamilton. UCSB’s goalkeeper booted a ball downfield to their forward after stopping a shot. Without any interceptions, the forward’s shot just missed the goal.
‘It was hard for us playing forward,’ Hamilton said. ‘It was a defensive game most of the time.’
The Anteaters received their chance when a Gauchos defender was called for a handball in their goal box. Evans took the penalty kick, scoring the first goal for UCI.
Afterward, there was no relief for the Anteater’s defense. Mathy, pressured into deflecting a series of three shots, was unable to prevent the rebound on the third shot. At the end of the first half, the Anteaters jogged off the field with a 1-1 tie.
Three minutes into the second half of the game, Evans intercepted a back pass to the Gauchos goalie and scored the second goal for UC Irvine.
‘It’s the best feeling, especially against this team,’ Evans said. ‘Overall I’m just proud of the guys.’
The Anteaters held their ground until the UCSB wing managed to cross the ball inside the box. Although Mathy deflected the first shot, Bryan Byrne from UCSB scored on the rebound.
With 35 minutes to go, the stress and hostility increased. A foul on sophomore defender Max Haymer started a series of pushes between him and the opponent. But both teams stepped in and ended the physical contact quickly. There were 12 fouls called on both teams by the end of the game.
The tied score at the end of the first 90 minutes sent the game into a sudden death overtime. Despite the five shot attempts by the Anteaters and only two by the Gauchos, the score remained tied.
‘We didn’t play as well as we can,’ Kuntz said. ‘We grind out these games. We pound it out. They’re a tough team to play.’
The UCI Men’s Soccer team holds a 3-0-1 record in the Big West Conference and a 6-3-2 record overall. This is one of the best records the team has had this far into a season.
John Gunderson, a UCI alumnus at the game who played from 1986 to 1990, said ‘They fought hard. They’re a quality team.’