The UC Irvine men’s soccer team will open their 2010 regular season ranked 20th in the nation. This marks the fifth straight season that the Anteaters have been ranked in the top 25.
Although they’re ranked highly, the ’Eaters need to fill some giant voids if they expect to compete for a Big West title and earn a berth in the NCAA tournament for the third consecutive year.
Irvine loses two players who have been instrumental to the team’s success the last two years. Carlos Aguilar was named Big West Most Valuable Player in last year’s postseason tournament after scoring or assisting on four goals, two of which were scored on penalty kicks. Aguilar is now playing for the Rochester Rhinos of the United Soccer League.
After transferring from Yavapai College, Irving Garcia made a tremendous impact on UCI’s success. During his stay at UCI, Garcia collected many awards, including two First Team All-Big West honors along with Big West Offensive Player of the Year in 2009. The New York Red Bulls selected Garcia in the fourth round of the Major League Soccer Super Draft.
Now that these two soccer stars have taken their talents to the next level, the Anteaters will look for replacements.
This will be a daunting task, considering that both Garcia and Aguilar accounted for 36 percent of UCI’s goals last season. However, when looking at the UCI roster, replacements might not be far off. Expect senior forwards Spencer Thompson and Amani Walker to fill the voids vacated by Garcia and Aguilar.
Thompson has been a force to be reckoned with ever since he arrived at UC Irvine. As a freshman, he was second on the team with nine points by totaling four goals and one assist. During his second year, Thompson increased his goals to eight and his assists to six. He was also named to the All-Big West First Team.
Last year, he was named to the All-Big West Second Team by scoring seven goals and notching four assists. Expect Thompson to shoulder the majority of the load, as his success is vital to the team’s overall success.
Another player to keep an eye on is Walker. Walker has progressively increased his scoring totals each year he has worn the UCI jersey. As a junior, Walker had his best year. He led the team with nine goals and notched 21 total points. Against Cal State Fullerton, he tied a school single game record by recording seven points on three goals and an assist.
Despite leading the team in goals, Walker only started 12 games and came off the bench in ten. With the departure of Aguilar, expect Amani Walker to be thrust into the starting lineup.
The biggest shoes to be filled are those of Garcia. Look for sophomore midfielder Jonathan Prieto to make an impact on the upcoming season. Prieto had a sensational freshman campaign.
He played in all 22 games, making 17 starts. He tallied seven points off three goals and an assist and also received All-Big West Honorable Mention accolades.
Prieto should improve his total numbers from last season and his role should increase with a vacancy left by Garcia.
Whether it is Walker and Prieto or another pair of players who fill the holes left by last year’s seniors, this team will need to find answers quick, as their schedule presents some tough challenges.
The ’Eaters open up their season with a tough Gonzaga team and then face a team that participated in the 2009 NCAA tournament in UNLV.
Before opening up conference play, the Anteaters will participate in three tournaments, hosting one of them. UCI will hold the UC Irvine College Classic, which will feature Santa Clara, Wisconsin and Loyola University Chicago.
The Anteaters will then compete in the San Diego State tournament and the UNLV tournament.
The Anteaters come back home on Sept. 29 to open up conference play, hosting UC Riverside. After losing to UC Santa Barbara twice last year during the regular season, the Anteaters will seek revenge as they host the Gauchos on Oct. 30.
The ’Eaters are expected to wrap up their regular season in a rivalry matchup against Cal State Fullerton on Nov. 3.