Men’s Soccer Champs Once Again

Win number fifteen proved to be the sweetest win of the whole year. The UC Irvine Men’s Soccer team exacted revenge on UC Santa Barbara on Saturday at Harder Stadium to capture its second straight Big West Tournament Championship.

The Anteaters first had to contend with a Cal Poly team that finished second in the Big West Conference with six conference wins. The two teams battled each other into the late night that saw UCI come out on top when it was all said and done. The No. 3 seed UC Irvine defeated No. 2 seed Cal Poly by a 2-1 score in double overtime on Wednesday night in the semi-finals of the Big West Tournament.

UCI struck first when senior Irving Garcia sent a ball into the box where it was headed in by senior Carlos Aguilar 1:59 into the match, giving Irvine the 1-0 advantage. The Mustangs struck back when the Anteaters committed a foul three yards outside the box, giving the Mustangs a free kick in the 30th minute. David Zamora nailed the free kick inside the post to tie the game at 1-1.

Junior Spencer Thompson was fouled inside the box giving UCI a penalty kick at the 102:49 mark. It was Aguilar again, this time for the game winner, who converted the penalty kick to give UCI the win, propelling them into the championship round against the Gauchos on Saturday.

After the game Coach George Kuntz spoke to BigWest T.V.

“This Cal Poly team was a great team. Their record is indicative of the team; they have a great team,” Kuntz said. “Our guys were a little more focused after a disappointing game last game. We kept pushing, we kept pushing and luckily for us, we got a call go our way and that’s soccer.”

The MVP of the match, Carlos Aguilar, also talked to BigWest T.V. after the game.

“It was a hard fought battle between both teams. We work hard all season to get there (championship game) and repeat and get a NCAA berth. That’s our main goal and focus right now,” Aguilar said.

The Anteaters picked the right time to get their first win against the Gauchos this year. UCI dropped two 1-0 decisions to UCSB in league play, the last one coming in double overtime at Anteater Stadium. The Anteaters were not going to let Santa Barbara shut them out again as the UCI offensive attack exploded with four goals for a 4-1 final score.

The Anteaters got things started when Carlos Aguilar took a corner kick in the 10th minute. Senior Kevin Santora got the ball and flicked it to junior Gray Bailey, who knocked the ball into the net from the right side of the box for the early 1-0 lead. Senior star forward Irving Garcia stole the ball after a Gaucho defender played the ball back towards goalie Sam Hayden. Hayden wasn’t able to collect the ball as Garcia knocked it to himself behind the keeper and then guided the ball into the empty net for the 2-0 score in the 30th minute.

UCI wasn’t about to let the Gauchos back into the game in the second half because they kept up the pressure and continued to attack the Gaucho net. Junior Spencer “Freight Train” Thompson was taken down in the box giving UCI a penalty kick in the 62nd minute. Aguilar took the kick for UCI and made the score 3-0. Thompson would get his own revenge when he dribbled the ball to 15 yards out and knocked it across to the left side of the net for the fourth score. The Gauchos managed to get on the scoreboard with a goal in the 82nd minute, but it was a little late and not enough.

In a post-game interview, Coach Kuntz used the time to reflect on the recent success and the past fifteen years of hard work.

“For us, it has been the fruition of the last fifteen years, not just the last two years. Its been a fifteen year journey. We have spoken about this and envisioned this for the program.We have had a very special group of guys come together since 2006,” Kuntz said. “We are must proud for the university, grateful for being apart of this great institution, and grateful for the alumni. This team truly believes they can beat any team on any, whether that be in the conference or in the entire nation.”

Senior Carlos Aguilar took home some extra hardware as he was named the Big West Tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Sophomore goalkeeper Andrew Fontein had six saves for UCI in 80 minutes. Junior Victor Chinchilla kept the game out of hand for the last ten.

While claiming their second straight Big West Tournament Championship is a great achievement, the win also ensures the ’Eaters an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament. Last year, the team went all the way to the third round of the tournament before losing to No. 3 overall St. John’s, in New York, an unprecedented run in UCI history. This year, they look to do even better. For 2009, the Anteaters now await the NCAA Tournament Selection Show on Monday at 2:30 p.m. on ESPNews to find out who, where, and when they will play in the big tournament.