In the beginning of the season the UCI Men’s Soccer team (6-1-1, 10-5-3) looked as bad as some celebrities do without their makeup or botox. The squad was victorious in only one out of their first six games and struggled offensively as they were shut out in a shocking five consecutive games. Yet, after their thrilling 2-1 victory over CSU Northridge (14-2-3, 8-0-1) on Wednesday, the Anteaters proved that their early season struggles were simply a fallacy as they handed the 11th ranked Matadors their first loss in the Big West Conference this year.
Calling their game against CSU Northridge ‘the most important game of the season,’ Head Coach George Kuntz sought to continue UCI’s remarkable turnaround and keep their hopes of winning the Big West Title alive.
The Anteaters jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the fourth minute when junior forward Brad Evans received a crossing pass from junior defensemen Cameron Dunn. Evans quickly passed his defender and left the opposing goalie frozen in his cleats with a 25-yard blast into the net under the top left crossbar.
‘I just tried to do whatever I could to get the ball in the net,’ Evans said. ‘They were placing a lot of attention on Hamilton, yet this team has so many weapons on offense that it is impossible to focus on only one guy’.
The one guy the Matadors should have been concerned about throughout the game was Evans. In the 32nd minute he showed that his finesse game was just as good as his power skills as he took a pass from junior midfielder Scott Shiraishi and hit a header past diving Matador goalie Kevin Guppy. This gave the Anteaters a 2-0 lead heading into halftime and left the crowd thinking about an upset.
Yet, in the second half, the Matadors looked more like the team that had gone through their conference schedule undefeated. They continued to push the Anteaters and generated many scoring chances. The Matadors finally got on the scoreboard in the 53rd minute, due in large part to a misplay by UCI’s senior goalie Ryan Mathy.
Electing to run out of the goalkeeper’s box to clear a ball, Mathy failed to kick the ball out of bounds. Instead, the ball went directly to Northridge midfielder Gianni Facio who lofted a shot into the wide open net.
‘It was a mistake on my part,’ Mathy said. ‘While shutouts are always nice to have, the team goals are always more important.’
With the score 2-1, the Anteaters had many opportunities to put the game out of reach, but missed on many key plays. One prime example was when junior midfielder Anthony Hamilton’s header bounced off the crossbar in the 76th minute.
Yet, even with these missed opportunities, the senior team leaders refused to lose one of the most important games of their careers. It was only fitting that on senior night, senior goalie Ryan Mathy would make four of his six saves in the final minutes of the game to preserve the Anteater victory and demolish any chance Northridge had of sending the game into overtime.
‘This is by far the best game of my life,’ Mathy said. ‘We were able to score some early goals and our strong defense came through at the end. We now have to take care of business at Santa Barbara and bring that title back to Irvine’.
As the crowd stood on its feet even through the pouring rain, it was easy to see that this was no easy victory for UCI. The physical battles throughout the match were clearly evident as both teams received three yellow cards apiece and were called for a combined 31 fouls.
After the game, Kuntz credited his team’s remarkable turnaround with the fact that they have been healthier and learned to play better as a unit. ‘We love playing under pressure,’ Kuntz said.