On a night when the soccer world was watching the MLS finals, the Anteater faithful knew that Crawford Stadium was the place to be. Last Saturday evening, fans braved the rain in order to watch our men’s soccer team battle the St. Mary’s Gaels in the second round of the NCAA tournament. As the men on the field suited up for action, the crowd suited up in jackets, gloves and scarves. With both team’s season on the line, it was set to be a show of epic proportion.
Coming off of a huge win in the Big West Tournament Finals, the fans had excitement pulsing through their veins. Fourth-year Sydney Torres was not deterred by the cold, saying, “Although it [was] raining, I feel like it almost [made] it more spirited because these are the hardcore fans coming out to the game.”
Torres was inspired to attend Saturday night’s match-up because of her love for the game and the team.
“I’m a big soccer fan and I really enjoy watching our men’s soccer team because they’re extremely talented,” she said. “I wanted to come show my support. Number six is my favorite. I like his style, I like how he plays the game.”
Torres was not going to let a little rain stop her from watching Jimmy Turner and the rest of the senior Eaters fight for the opportunity to wear the blue and gold once more.
“If you’re coming out here in the rain you want to see this game,” she said.
657 people wanted to be a part of the game that night and hoped to be a part of history.
Fourth-year Wes Koseki understood the magnitude of the match.
“This is a really big game,” he said. “I like watching soccer in general, but the fact that it’s my school makes it even better. I can actually have a lot of pride in it.”
Fourth-year Kevin Dick displayed his pride with UCI gear and even brought a pom-pom to shake throughout the match while leading cheers on the ’Eater side.
“I was nervous that a lot of people wouldn’t show up because of the rain,” he said. “[ASUCI] invested in funnel cakes to bring students out [to the game], and we [had] a huge turnout. We gave all of the free tickets away, and then some. So people are still paying to get in and are cheering. [The noise level from the stands] has been really good actually. It’s gotten progressively better, everyone’s getting way more into it. The rain even adds to it, and turns it into a more epic setting.”
“[The rain] makes this game way more dramatic,” he said. “You always see in those epic movies, the huge fight scenes are always in the rain.”
Koseki, however, worried how the rain would affect the Eaters’ playing.
“It worries me, because there’s a lot of slipping and sliding going on,” he said. “A lot of [the players] are slicing at the ball, not getting as much grip as they want. The field is torn up from everything, but I think we’re handling it pretty well.”
In the first half of the game, aggressive play drove the action from one side of the field to the other, and both teams left the half scoreless. However, the intensity heightened as the Gales put one away in the 57th minute. Still, the Irvine crowd had faith. 26 minutes later, Miguel Ibarra brought the home crowd to their feet as he successfully found the net.
Dick enthusiastically shared that this was his favorite moment of the match.
“The whole crowd went crazy,” he said. “The school spirit was really cool.”
As regulation time ended in a 1-1 tie, the match headed to overtime for the second time in a row for the ’Eaters.
The first ten minutes was scoreless, and as the second half of overtime opened up, senior goalkeeper Andrew Fontein made a beautiful save.
“Everyone was kind of near the box, and [the ball] went over our last defensive line,” said Torres. “It was a high ball so it was coming from the top, and Fontein tapped it over the top post. It kept us alive.”
The crowd breathed a sigh of relief as Andrew fearlessly guarded the net. However, the ensuing corner kick would end the ’Eaters’ season as St. Mary’s scored a header, sealing a 2-1 loss for the ’Eaters.
For the first time that night, the Irvine side was quiet.
“It felt like it didn’t happen,” Koseki said. “It [was]like a graveyard here.”
As the ’Eaters huddled on the field, they walked to the fence to clap for the fans, a tradition after every match. The fans, on their feet, saluted the players and clapped for much more than Saturday night’s game.
The crowd clapped for the season, for the seniors, for their careers and for the future. It was a thank you for the last four years of excitement and the players who believe in the power of a game to bring people together.
Thank you, ’Eaters for putting on an epic show.