The highly hyped and nationally ranked UC Irvine men’s soccer team, host to the Labor Day Invitational at Anteater Stadium, took care of business on Friday and defeated Long Island University, Brooklyn 2-0. Backed by a pair of goals from Gor Kirakosyan and dominating ball control, UCI was relentless in their first of two Labor Day weekend matches.
The Anteaters outshot LIU 24-3 and took nine corner kicks compared to the Blackbirds’ one. The persistent attack had an early yield in the 18th minute, as Kirakosyan took a pass in the box from forward Enrique Cardenas and drilled the ball inside the right post for the early lead.
The remainder of the half was marked by physical play, with LIU cautioned with yellow cards in the 31st and 41st minutes. But no such aggravation could stop UCI from applying pressure throughout the game, with forwards Christopher Santana and Cardenas leading the onslaught with five shots each on the night.
UCI would add to the lead early in the second half, as Kirakosyan went to work again, taking a lead pass from Dennis Martinez and nimbly tucking the ball past the goalkeeper.
UCI goalie Michael Breslin had a relatively easy day, needing to make only two saves en route to raising his (and the team’s) record to 2-0.
In their second match of the Invitational, the ‘Eaters started slowly, but dominated the second half to take care of Detroit 3-1, bringing the Anteaters’ total record up to 3-0.
Early in the match, UCI looked a step slower than Detroit, who capitalized with an eighth-minute goal. Adam Bedell took a pass into the box from Mike Pugh and blew it past Anteater goalkeeper Michael Breslin to make it 1-0. For the Anteaters, the first half was characterized by unforced errors and missed opportunities.
However, whatever inspiring halftime speech Anteater Head Coach George Kuntz gave certainly worked, as the Anteaters returned to form in the second half. One minute into the second period, Christopher Santana had his initial shot blocked by Detroit goalkeeper Nat Steinwasher, only to collect his own rebound and fire a follow-up shot that found the net, which tied the score.
The Anteaters continued to put pressure on the Detroit defense for the entire half. In the 64th minute, Santana sent a hard cross deep into the box, where Lester Hayes III was waiting to redirect it past the goalie and put the Eaters up for good. An Enrique Cardenas breakaway goal in the dying minutes of the match would ice the game for UCI.
In this tournament finale under the hot afternoon sun, the level of physical play matched the rising temperature. A total of five yellow cards were issued between the two teams and multiple Anteaters had to be attended to by the training staff, with Bryan Breslin, George Mansour, and Victor Calderon all coming off the pitch due to injury, further depleting a team that missed leading scorer, Gor Kirakosyan, who sat this game out with a bruised shin.
Kirakosyan is one of many new Anteaters to this year’s squad, coming to UCI from Pasadena City College. Adjusting to a new school, coach and teammates can be difficult, but his game seems to lack any adjustment period; his exceptional play helped him assimilate to the team and netted him the Big West Offensive Player of the Week Award, as the midfielder scored three goals in his first two matches.
“The award was a good feeling, being a new player. It gave me confidence.”
Upon being asked about the upcoming league schedule and the Anteaters’ shot at a Big West crown, Kirakosyan’s voice rang with confidence.
“It’s going to be a good team this year. We want people to come watch; we have a good team with a lot of talent. We have a good chance to win the Big West.”
Gor Kirakosyan has spoken: come support UCI soccer as they position themselves for a Big West title and beyond. The Anteaters’ next home game is September 28 against Sacramento State.