The Best in the Big West

Have you ever felt so ridiculously anxious for a game? So anxious that the previous night you and your friend talked about how you might actually cry if your team loses tomorrow, all while listening to Shakira’s “Waka Waka” because, let’s be honest, that song is everybody’s favorite pre-soccer pump up song.

Courtesy of Marlin Agoub

Courtesy of Marlin Agoub

That sort of describes how it was for the 18th ranked UC Irvine men’s soccer Big West Final against the 25th ranked Cal State Northridge Matadors Sunday afternoon.

Then comes that moment when you step into Anteater Stadium and see your team warming up, and you know that if they lose today, then their season is over. You stand there, completely helpless and without control. You’re not a coach and you’re not a player, and you realize that, if you’re feeling this distressed from the sidelines, then what the players and the coaches might be going through must be inconceivable.

Your anxiety rises, and at that point you think to yourself: “I just don’t know how to handle all of this right now.”

Then they stop warming up, and each team huddles together on their side of the field, getting pumped for the game that is just moments away, probably listening to their coach talk about how teamwork is key and to push through until the end, even when they feel like they can’t. The pressure’s on, as the game will determine whether or not they will move forward to the NCAA tournament.

With this weight on their shoulders, the starting 11 of each team line up and follow the referees to the center of the field; the international walk up. The players of each team and their respective coaches are individually introduced, and along with the audience, turn to their right and stand tall for the national anthem.

Each player takes their position and at the referee’s whistle, the game begins.

The first half of the game was intense and both teams played aggressively. With four shots on goal by UCI and six by CSUN, the first half ended 0-0 tied. UCI’s keeper Michael Breslin performed, fighting off four shots during the first half of the match.

The ’Eaters went into the second half determined, energetic and tough. The fate of the match would rely on their play of these final 45 minutes.

During the 65th minute of the match, Mats Bjurman carried the ball to Enrique ‘KeeyKeh” Cardenas, who then passed it toward Cameron Iwasa on his right; Cameron fired it through the net, scoring the game’s only goal. It was teamwork at its absolute finest.

From this point on, the Anteaters played hard defense, to ensure that no goal would go in against them. They were aggressive, and their lead did not slow them down the slightest bit.

Every strong defensive play by UC Irvine led to strong offensive attack.   With every great play, enthusiasm increased throughout the stadium.

“One, nothing lead or two, nothing, is very difficult, still, in soccer. And we’ve already been snake-bitten by that a little bit this season. What we attempted to do is be a little bit more organized defensively because we did give them a few chances early,” Coach Kuntz said earlier in the season.

Intensity heightened in the second half, with back to back fouls from both sides.  By the end of the game, CSUN would have a total of seven fouls, and UCI with a total of eight.

The ’Eaters finished the final moments of the match solid, and as the crowd began the 10 second countdown, joy, pride and spirit filled Anteater Stadium.

The final whistle was blown, ending the match 1-0, with the UC Irvine Anteaters as the 2013 Big West Champions. The energy in Anteater Stadium was incredible. Cheering and clapping filled the air with pure bliss. It was a great day to be an Anteater.

“It’s been a very long process for this team; it’s been an incredible journey trying to retrain the mentality of being successful, the winning mentality,” Coach Kuntz said.

“These guys have been tremendous,” he continued.

Following the game occured the Big West Championship ceremony, where each Anteater was introduced to the crowd and received their Big West victory medal.

KeeyKeh Cardenas was also honored, receiving the Big West Tournament MVP.

KeeyKeh’s journey through his five years at UCI has been unbelievable. “I came here, I could not match the intensity level of the [older] guys. But [they] would always lift me. Their legacy was that we are the hardest working team,” Cardenas said. “It started in the weight room, we just worked incredibly hard. Our desire to win was just incredible. The culture is just so rich here, everyone is just so family oriented,” he continued.

With their incredible Big West victory, the UC Irvine Anteaters move forward to the NCAA College Cup. The games are to start on Nov. 21, and nothing short of greatness is expected from the ’Eaters.