By Marvin Luu
As junior midfielder Sammie James squares herself up for a 40-yard free kick within the 12th minute mark of Friday night’s game against CSUF (11-2-1), no one knows the significance of what an early goal would mean for the ‘Eaters. If the ball propels high enough, it would surely sail straight into a tight space that sits between the crossbar and over the fingertips of Titan goalie Jennifer Stuart, energizing the ‘Eaters with a nice cushion over a team that is currently in first place of the Big West Conference. James takes a step forward and swiftly lifts her foot up, presumably aiming for that tight space.
James’ foot connects with the ball, which seemingly sits in the air for a bit before kissing the crossbar, where it pinballs in — then out. The referees do not signal a goal; the crowd protests; the game resumes; the Titans go up by one and then two; the ‘Eaters retaliate with one of their own, but without James’ goal, the game is over.
Eight days after falling to CSUN (9-5-1), the UC Irvine women’s soccer team (5-8-1) dropped their second consecutive loss of the season, first at home, at the hands of the defending champions, CSUF, on Friday night. With the loss, UCI is now 0-3 against the Titans in their last three meetings.
In the first half, fans were treated to a steady back and forth that ended at 0-0. The ‘Eaters began with an aggressive defensive mindset, holding CSUF, a team known to dismantle their opponents by jumping out early, to a total of three shot attempts. Heading into the game, Titans’ senior forwards Christina Burkenroad and Rebecca Wilson had proven to be a deadly two-punch combo in the Big West Conference, having put up a combined nine game-winners for the season off of 98 shot attempts, which is half of the Titans’ team total at 196. In the first half, the ‘Eaters had managed to shut out Burkenroad and Wilson, forcing them to go scoreless in the period, while limiting them to a combined three shots for the game.
“We defend well when we defend together,” head coach Scott Juniper said. “I think that we got very well organized against this team. Burkenroad and Wilson have scored about 14 goals and [they] didn’t get a look in the first half.”
Offensively, UCI had nearly identical numbers to CSUF, matching their shot attempts with nine. Sophomore midfielder Alex Karlowitsch, senior forward Claudia Lopez, and James had found the mark with a shot on goal a piece.
As evenly matched as the game seemed to be, it was not until the 57th minute mark that the importance of James’ near goal was fully realized. Burkenroad and Wilson had shaken their cold streak and would not be denied touches any longer. 12 minutes into the second half, Wilson catapulted a through ball up ahead to Burkenroad who slipped down the left wing and barreled in the first goal of the night.
Following the goal, UCI had lost a bit of composure and seemingly took shots in an act of desperation. Despite taking seven shots in the second half, five more than they had taken in the first, only one of those seven shots had been on goal.
“[Losing composure] was the most disappointing piece [of the game],” coach Juniper said. “I thought we did everything right…it’s just that we had about 10 to 15 minutes in the second half where we felt sorry for ourselves…unfortunately we hit the pause button for 10 to 15 minutes and instead of hitting the pause button, we got to hit the reset button and get back in it straight away.”
As the ‘Eaters frantically searched for an equalizer offensively, they began to scatter defensively which allowed CSUF to capitalize on their newfound momentum. Behind the Titans’ driving force were two familiar names. Six minutes after scoring CSUF’s first goal, Burkenroad, whose name seemingly can’t go without Wilson, bypassed a UCI defender, which forced senior goalie Corey Tobin to step far out to meet her. With Wilson trailing close behind, Burkenroad cleanly dished the ball to Wilson whose subsequent shot pierced the back of the net, giving the ‘Eaters a 2-0 deficit.
With the game seemingly over, Karlowitsch managed to instill a bit of life back into the Anteater Stadium. In the 89th minute mark with only 56 seconds to go, sophomore Grayson Galbraith pushed a lengthy through ball forward toward Karlowitsch, who met Stuart and slipped one home to cut the Titans’ lead to one. While some cheered for the ‘Eaters’ effort, others could not help but continue to murmur about James’ shot.
UCI will be back at the Anteater Stadium to face off against rivals Long Beach State on Sunday before heading out on a three game road trip that will start in Cal Poly and end in Hawai’i.