UC Riverside 0
UC Irvine 2
Coming off their much needed double-overtime victory over San Diego State, the UC Irvine men’s soccer team edged the surging UC Riverside Highlanders 2-0 Wednesday night at Anteater Stadium.
Though sluggish in the first 45 minutes, the Anteaters improved their record to 10-3-2 with two second-half goals, continuing their solid season play and keeping pace with UC Santa Barbara and Cal State Northridge for first in the Big West Conference.
Both offenses were less than stellar in the opening minutes as they failed to capitalize on easy opportunities. Riverside slipped through Irvine’s defense and had a chance at a goal after an early corner kick in the fourth minute. But UCI’s defense, highlighted by senior goal keeper Kenny Schoeni’s domination in the box, diffused any Riverside attack.
The Anteaters also showed early struggles as they trudged the field without any sense of urgency. Irvine looked flat-footed while on offense and could not surpass UCR’s defensive backfield. In the 23rd minute, UCI’s frustrations grew as they could not put away any of three consecutive crosses
‘We knew it was going to be a tough game,’ Schoeni said. ‘We heard they were playing a little more defensively now, so we just had to go out and play with a lot more intensity.’
A collision between UCI sophomore midfielder J.T. Terrazas and Riverside defender Jeff Mowdy changed the game’s rhythm. In the 38th, with the game scoreless, Terrazas and Mowdy were tied up when the UCI midfielder’s move for the ball knocked the Highlander on the ground. Riverside coaches ran toward the referees and the clock stopped as Mowdy was slow to get up. No cards were given for the Highlander’s bloody knee. Minutes later, there was another whistle. This time it was Mowdy who fouled Terrazas. The new intensity provided for a more physical second half.
During halftime, head coach George Kuntz addressed his team’s lack of inspiration and inability to score to specific problems. ‘I don’t think they were playing with urgency, I don’t think they were organizing well, and I don’t think they were communicating,’ Kuntz said. ‘Those things have to change first and the rest will come.’
The rest did fall into place after Joel Crompton of the Highlanders received his second yellow of the match and was ejected from the game. UCI took full advantage of the space created with Riverside being a man down.
‘I think it really got our motivation going cause we became out slow the first half,’ said sophomore forward Matt Murphy.
The game’s first goal was brilliant and began in the midfield when sophomore Rafael Macedo gained possession of the ball. Macedo then made a perfect pass through defenders, finding Murphy alone with a defender. With a slight hesitation move, Murphy shot a flawless bending ball toward left post, leaving the keeper helpless in mid-lunge. This first goal of the game gave the Anteaters a 1-0 lead, the Irvine faithful something to cheer about and a sparked confidence in the men’s club.
With some senior defenders down from injury, Irvine relied on help from the likes of junior defender Brandon Foster to keep the Highlanders at bay and retain their slim lead. The Anteaters’ play, though agressive in the beginning of the second half, became complacent in the following minutes. This, along with various missed calls from the referees, made the match one of pushing and shoving versus one of goal-attempts.
UCR’s Mowdy, still upset from his earlier confrontation that left him in bandages, fouled Irvine sophomore Kyle Schmid on a marking around the 70th minute. Later in the 75th , UCI senior forward Brad Evans received a yellow card after he retaliated with a push-off from a Highlander defender.
Wednesday night’s drama reached its peak in the 85th minute when a controversial foul call landed UCR on the top of the Anteater 18-yard box with a free kick. Both benches stood up from the anxiety of a possible last-minute tie. The Anteater defensive wall did not need to move, however, as the Highlander shot flew high above the intended left crossbar.
With time running out, Macedo set up his teammates once again when he found freshman Sean Harvey along the left side. Harvey connected with his first career goal with the goalkeeper out of position, solidifying UCI’s tough win.
The team looks to maintain their strong play on Wednesday against a tough Cal State Fullerton team, which lost to the UCI 3-2 in overtime during their first match-up.