You’d be surprised to know that perhaps the best player in UC Irvine soccer history was not even sure if he was good enough to play soccer in college.
That is the story of red-shirt senior Matt Murphy. The UCI career leader in points with 84 and counting only received a scholarship to play at UCI after he had already received admission to the university. Schools such as Cal State Fullerton wated him, but never received any serious offers.
On his club team in high school, he played the left back position and filled a role-playing position behind a few youth national squad teammates. His name did not show up in the box score for the Irvine strikers, and he did not receive much attention from when he played midfield at nearby Mater Dei High School.
“I had gotten into UCI, and then I contacted Coach Kuntz. He saw me play and then offered me a spot on the team,” Murphy said.
Signs of the talent he shows today were not immediately evident his freshman year as he red-shirted. However, it was only when he red-shirted that he realized how much soccer meant to him.
“I got serious after red-shirting. I had a girlfriend who kept me in line. I started to lift and play everyday. I had realized soccer was a big part of my life and I wanted it in my future. The only way to do that was to take it more seriously,” Murphy said.
But sometimes Murphy took it too seriously.
“Matt has a very competitive backbone. He hates to lose more than he loves to win. At times he gets too hard on himself,” said Coach George Kuntz.
Murphy found the calming presence he needed and you know what they say, behind every great man there is a great woman. Francesca Vacarro is his great woman. They both met in Mesa Court’s Niebla dorm at the end of their freshman year, and have been together ever since.
“She keeps me level, she takes care of me, she cooks me meals and the best thing is she had no soccer knowledge before she met me. She was a great out for me, not everything was about soccer anymore. She provides a great mix,” Murphy said.
The focus and relaxation that Vacarro brought to his life translated to his demeanor on the field. Murphy plays best when he does not think too much. When he thinks too much, he over-analyzes and makes mistakes. With a relaxed attitude, he allows the game to come to him. He has the ability to lighten any situation and as a result, holds the UCI career game winning goals record of 11 to prove it.
Murphy’s success was not from a strike of luck. In the summer before his second active season in the program, he began to hone the skills that his powerful left foot provided.
“I have always had a big left foot since I was a kid, but it wasn’t until I got to college that I started working on free kicks and crosses,” Murphy said.
Coach Kuntz raves about his left foot.
“That left leg can do more than most players can do with both legs. Even if you know he is going to score goals and he is going to play with his left foot, you can’t do anything about it. Teams are frantic now when he touches the ball,” Kuntz said.
As a result of his tremendous work ethic, his sophomore year was his breakout year. He scored 10 goals and recorded five assists to lead the team with 25 points. He also won the Big West Midfielder of the Year honors for the NCAA snubbed Anteater squad of 2006.
“Two to three weeks [after finding out about the snubbing] I was super bummed out. I wasn’t playing, and I wanted to. But I just told myself to work harder; I still have two more years,” Murphy said.
Unfortunately for Murphy, his junior year did not live up to the hype as a young and inexperienced squad around him failed to succeed.
This did not deter Murphy. He and his teammates worked harder in the off-season and everything clicked. The team is currently ranked eighth in the nation and has won the Big West regular season title and tournament championship behind his leadership.
Murphy’s roller-coaster career is reflective of his uncanny interest in the stock market.
“He is more than obsessed with the stock market. He stares at the computer screen all day when he is not playing soccer,” Vacarro said.
As a child, Murphy chose soccer over baseball because it was a game without any stoppage in play, and he developed his interest in the stock market because of its similarities to the game.
“It’s always changing, and I find that stimulating. It’s like soccer — the more time you put into it, the more you get out of it,” Murphy said.
One thing that will change is Murphy’s future. Murphy might have been undervalued upon in his arrival in 2004, but he is now prime to sell high in the upcoming 2009 Major League Soccer draft.
“He can serve the ball, shoot and nail free kicks. Put that on an MLS talent-rich team and the sky is the limit,” Kuntz said.
One thing that certainly isn’t changing is Murphy’s legacy in the UCI record books.