By Kevin Vote
UC Irvine men’s soccer (1-2-1) has stumbled out of the gate in its quest for a third straight NCAA tournament appearance during a tough stretch of their non-conference slate.
UCI opened up preseason play in mid-August with a 1-1 draw against UNLV, a team that UCI easily disposed of in the first round of last year’s NCAA tournament. Senior midfielder Eduardo Calzada, a preseason all-Big West conference selection, scored a goal from 25 yards out in the first half, but UNLV managed to grab an equalizer before full time. While a draw may not have been the result UCI was looking for, it’s a good sign that Calzada is picking up where he left off last season in terms of goal scoring. Calzada led the team last season with seven goals, and also had four assists.
UCI’s 2015 campaign officially started on August 28th when the team faced off against Loyola (Illinois) at Anteater Stadium. The Anteaters won 1-0 thanks to a goal from new junior (transfer) forward Edgardo Molina. UCI put tremendous pressure on Loyola’s defense in the second half with five shots on goal, and it finally paid off as Molina slotted home a corner kick at the back post that had been flicked on by junior midfielder Andres Mendoza. The narrow margin of victory highlights UCI’s need to replace the goal production rate of last year’s graduating class of players. The Anteaters averaged 2.5 goals last year in their first four games compared to this year’s slow start of a 0.5 goal average in four games.
UC Irvine’s goal scoring problems only continued on the team’s recent road trip to the Midwest, where the team played matches against Nebraska (Omaha) and college soccer powerhouse Creighton, ranked third in the nation by multiple college soccer publications. UCI lost 1-0 to an unranked Nebraska team that started the season with three straight unexpected victories and recently earned a few votes to be ranked in the top 25 in the nation. UCI fell behind early, as junior Mark Moulton put the hosts ahead in the first half. Although UCI had chances to tie throughout, the team was unable to produce an equalizer that would salvage the match despite six shots on goal in the second half.
UCI’s first road trip of the season continued against Creighton a few days later. Creighton managed to outclass the Anteaters, winning 4-0. The flow of the match was disrupted by a weather delay in the first half, but the damage was already done by then, as Creighton scored twice inside the opening ten minutes.
“We are focused on becoming more competitive and doing what is necessary to get good results,”said UCI head coach Chris Volk after the game.
On Sept. 16, UCI played the University of San Diego to a 1-1 draw down in San Diego. Both sides scored early in the match. UCI freshman midfielder Ivan Canales caught the San Diego goalkeeper out after a bad touch and chipped the ball from outside of the box into the open goal to give the Anteaters a 1-0 advantage just five minutes in. The lead would be short-lived though, as San Diego equalized in the 9th minute thanks to a terrific glancing header by senior forward Keegan Smith off of a corner kick. UCI senior goalkeeper Michael Breslin kept the Anteaters in the match and preserved the tie with a brilliant display of goalkeeping, especially in the overtime period. Breslin ended the night with five saves and allowed only one goal in the net. Both teams went into the overtime period with 10 men, as two players were expelled due to second yellow cards towards the end of regulation. Within three minutes of USD defender Parker Price receiving his second yellow card, Anteater freshman forward Luis Leon received his second yellow card as well. UCI settled for the overtime draw and will now head back home for a game against San Diego State before hitting the road again.
Soccer will return to Anteater Stadium on Sept. 24 when they will face Loyola Marymount, their final home game before beginning conference play.