Yes, We are the Champions

Scott Roeder | Staff Photographer

Scott Roeder | Staff Photographer
Matt Murphy goes up to win a header for the Big West Champion UC Irvine Anteater men’s soccer team.

When UC Irvine men’s soccer Head Coach George Kuntz discovered that UC Santa Barbara tied UC Davis on Saturday just before his team’s 2:30 p.m. game against Cal State Northridge, he did not know whether or not to tell his team the result before the game.
It’s a good thing he did because UCI (12-1-6, 5-1-4) defeated CSUN 2-1 in Northridge to clinch the first ever Big West title in the program history.
“We felt they would find out [the score] anyway from a family member or an announcer. So it would be better coming from us to keep them focused,” Kuntz said.
UCI did come out a little flat in the first half, but both teams battled. UCI needed to win the match to take the title, and CSUN would have to win in order to qualify for the Big West tournament. Coach Kuntz and the Anteaters could not overlook a solid CSUN team that only lost to top-ranked Creighton on a last-minute penalty kick, tied Pac-10 champion UCLA and tied UCSB on the road.
However, Mr. UCI soccer Matt Murphy would put the Anteaters ahead in the 56th minute as he scored off a play the team has been practicing all year long. The goal did not come without a little luck.
“Gray [Bailey] threw the ball into the box and the goalie misjudged it. The ball went over his head, flicked off me because I misjudged it and then bounced back to me off a defender. Then it was an easy placement into the goal,” Murphy said.
In the 60th minute of the game, CSUN’s Jeremy Hohn achieved his second yellow card when he took down Spencer Thompson. The second yellow warranted a red card for Hohn and an ejection from the game. Thompson’s status for Wednesday’s Big West tournament semi-final against UC Davis is questionable.
The Matadors pushed their attack despite being a man down and knotted the score at one in the 72nd minute on Camilo Rojas’ goal.
Coach Kuntz decided to create an even stronger ‘Eater attack, bringing in the offensive-minded midfielders Irving Garcia and Carlos Aguilar. He looked like a genius as Garcia dribbled past four defenders down line, cut back and fed the ball to Aguilar, who one-timed the ball into the net with 2:28 left in the match.
Aguilar, who was also recruited by CSUN, is no stranger to big-time goals, scoring two goals in the Junior College State Championships last year for Taft College. Garcia, who was Arizona Player of the Year for Yavapai College, has recorded either an assist or goal in the last five games when Coach Kuntz has subbed him in up top.
“[Garcia] was not even supposed to play today. He has been suffering from a bad back, but at halftime he said he was good to go. He had to play,” Kuntz said.
That is the way the UCI team has been playing all season. They have matched up to all its competition, and have rarely been completely outplayed. The Anteaters have out-shot their opponents in nearly every game this season.
Coach Kuntz calls this season one of the greatest experiences of his life.
“There is no way to explain it. There are a few things in my life that are at the top. My marriage, my children and now this. It has to rank right up there. When you labor 14 years with this as a goal in mind, and see it in fruition with a group of guys that become very special, it is truly amazing,” Kuntz said.
Senior Matt Murphy has been at UCI for five years; he red-shirted his first year. He won Big West Midfielder of the Year his sophomore year when the team was denied a trip to the NCAA tournament, and then saw the team fall apart the next season. He stuck with it and stepped up as the leader this year, and he is one of the most valuable players in the greatest season.
“I can’t describe it with words. I was super emotional after the game, super excited,” Murphy said.
Murphy and the rest of the Anteaters will compete on Wednesday against UC Davis at 7 p.m. at Anteater Stadium. If the Anteaters win, they will be in the Big West tournament championship game.