The UC Irvine men’s soccer team was up, then almost down, then back up again in a tough game against the UC Riverside Highlanders on Wednesday night. The Highlanders were seeking to gain their second win of the whole year and almost succeeded in upsetting the Anteaters if it weren’t for the late heroics of junior Spencer Thompson and senior Irving Garcia.
The Anteaters seemed destined to win the game when they took an early two goal to none lead in the first half of the game. Junior Spencer Thompson got things started for the Anteaters when he found senior Irving Garcia on the right wing with a pass that allowed Garcia to blast a shot to the left corner of the goal from 20 yards out in the tenth minute. The first half was filled with players roughing each other up and yellow cards were handed out to many. Anteater Jorge Reyes received a red card in the 23rd minute forcing the Anteaters to play with 10 players the rest of the match. UC Riverside player Nathan Paterson also picked up a red card in the 25th minute to even the playing field between both teams.
Thompson got back to his old tricks and got deep into the Riverside zone with some nifty moves and set up freshman Jonathan Prieto on the left side. Prieto lodged a shot into the back of the net from 25 yards out to give UCI a 2-0 lead in the 31st minute.
Things started to go wrong for the Anteaters after that last goal and the momentum was captured by UCR when they needed it the most. Highlander Tyler Wilson knocked home a penalty kick to get Riverside on the scoreboard and end the shut-out in the 39th minute. UCR kept the heat turned up on the Anteaters in the second half and tied the game up with a goal at the 59th minute from Cesar Diaz who had a wide open shot after UCI goalie Victor Chinchilla was off his line.
The Anteaters must have sensed the game slipping away from them because they came back in a flurry. Garcia converted a free kick just outside the box in the 68th minute. Garcia then found junior Amani Walker on a breakaway in the 73rd minute to give UCI the 4-2 advantage which ended up being the final score of the game.
“It’s good we’re starting to win the games we’re supposed to win,” a battered but stoic Spencer Thompson said. “Winning physical games like this gives us a lot of confidence.”
The other hero of the game, Irving Garcia, echoed those same thoughts.
“It felt good to score the game winner not just for me, but for the whole team,” Garcia said. “We really deserved the win in this game. That is how we have to play. We got goals, and we got the result.”
A relieved Coach Kuntz weighed in on the win as well, offering strong praise for Garcia and Thompson.
“We played a young team that was resilient. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” Kuntz said. “I was ecstatic when Irving got the free kick … I haven’t seen a player do what Irving has done in the past weeks for a long time. Also, Spencer took a lot of pressure off everyone else. He took a beating and set-up everyone else,” Kuntz said.
Next up, the Anteaters take on Cal Poly on Oct. 21 at Anteater Stadium at 7:00 p.m.