UCI men’s soccer kicked off conference play this week taking on Sacramento State on Thursday and UC Davis on Saturday in a two-game homestand. After a disappointing start to the season, the ‘Eaters looked to start off on the right foot and establish themselves in the Big West conference.
The ‘Eaters came out on the wrong end of a 2-1 score against Sac State on Thursday, after completely pounding the Hornets’ junior goalie James Del Curto with 27 shots including 16 on frame — both season highs — Del Curto was credited with 14 saves, which is a single-game high in the nation this year. Nine ‘Eaters registered a shot on target with junior Giovanni Godoy leading the way with three.
UCI opened the match with a 10-1 shot advantage, but encountered familiar problems with finishing goals, and only managed to put one in the back of the net.
Sacramento State made the most of their limited chances, and was able to open the scoring in the 29th minute with some nifty passing inside the box. Junior Trevor Jackson, who finished with two assists, fed senior forward Alex Bettencourt, who found freshman forward Christian Webb for the finish inside the right post.
In the 36th minute, the Hornets quickly added an insurance goal as Jackson fired a pass from the opposite half to senior forward Nate Nugen who rolled it past UCI freshman keeper Alex Waldron.
The ‘Eaters entered halftime down 2-0, but came out firing even harder in the second half.
“Stick to the game plan, don’t get away from it,” said head coach Chris Volk to his team at the break. “Part of the problem is our mentality; we shut off sometimes when we give up a goal. Then we force things and we don’t stick with what we’ve been working on and training.”
UCI continued its barrage on goal with five shots out of the gate early in the second stanza, and finally came through with a score in the 57th minute. Junior midfielder Mario Ortiz wrested the ball away from a Hornet defender and led Godoy down the sideline, who sent a cross into the box. Another Hornet defender was just able to get his head to it, but senior defender Thomas Janjigian was waiting to pound it home for his first career goal.
As the match wore on, the ‘Eaters racked up more chances but ultimately could not capitalize.
Sophomore Luis Leon, who tallied six shots on the night for UCI, had a final chance in the 87th minute deep in the box. He lifted a shot that bounced off the top crossbar, appeared to land behind the line, and popped back out, but the referees did not rule it a goal.
“It looked like [a goal],” said Leon. “To be honest, I have no excuses. I’m not gonna say it bounced off my shin or anything like that. I just wasn’t able to find the back of the net, and I take responsibility for that, but I’ll move on and Saturday I’ll make it up to the team.”
Though the ‘Eaters stuffed the stat sheet, they once again fell victim to bad breaks and momentary lapses in concentration. Their current record doesn’t necessarily reflect their capabilities as unit, as they have been competitive in most of their recent games and shown flashes of dominance on the attack.
“They were really clinical with those two goals, two counters, two mistakes from us,” said Leon. “Throughout the game, we absolutely dominated, but stats and all that at the end of the day don’t matter because we lost. I was all over the field, but I wasn’t able to pull through for the team. We have to move on; it’s a good experience, obviously. We’ll learn from this defeat. We were the better team, but unfortunately we came up short.”
The ‘Eaters continue to struggle with finishing chances and limiting mistakes. Head coach Chris Volk remains positive that their attacking style will eventually pay off, and that their offensive effectiveness is trending in the right direction.
“I’m happy with what the guys created, and the chances,” said Volk. “Their goalkeeper had 14 saves, and the team had another save, 15 altogether. Something’s got to go our way sooner or later. We got away from our game plan a little bit in the first half, but once we adjusted and went back to it, we had a lot of good chances to score, the most we’ve had all season, so that’s a positive.”
The ‘Eaters fell 3-2 in similar fashion to UC Davis at home on Saturday night, unable to make the most of their chances and allowing the Aggies to take advantage of ‘Eater mistakes to take the lead early, and regain the lead late. Clinging to a 2-1 lead for most of the match, UCI could not shut the door and allowed UC Davis to creep back in the game and eventually earn the win.
“We took a goal early, we responded well, got the equalizer, and got the second goal. We had the lead, that’s all positive,” said Volk. “Second half, they came after us a little bit, we had a good chance to go up 3-1 a couple times. We go up 3-1, different story.”
UC Davis struck first in the seventh minute after junior Miguel Acevedo hit fellow junior midfielder Evan Barrett, who beat Waldron to make it 1-0.
UCI created some great chances in the early going, and were able to even the score in the 33rd minute. Janjigian’s cross bounced off an Aggie defender, and Leon, who could not find the net after six shots on Thursday, was able to convert for the first of his two goals on the match.
“For myself, it feels pretty good,” said Leon. “Like I said Thursday, it was only a matter of time until I got a couple in the back of the net. That’s what I did today.”
Leon was back for his encore in the very next minute, as he stole the ball from an Aggie defender and rifled a shot past the keeper.
UCI looked to be in control heading into halftime up 2-1, but the Aggies continued to claw and scratch while the ‘Eaters squandered quality chances to widen their lead.
UC Davis drew level in the 61st minute after UCI failed to clear the ball following an Aggie cross into the box. Junior defender Greg Salazar sent it to sophomore midfielder Brian Quintero, who headed it back to junior midfielder Noah Wilson, who headed it home past Waldron.
Mere minutes later, the Aggies took the lead for good. A corner kick and shot was saved by Waldron, but junior defender Chase Rhode finished the rebound to put his team ahead 3-2.
With plenty of time to respond, the ‘Eaters failed to put together many meaningful chances. UCI racked up 15 fouls in the second half, including a handful in the final ten minutes which slowed play and hampered their ability to equalize.
Despite dropping their first two conference matches in a heartbreaking fashion, there are a few positives that UCI can build on to right the ship as they hit the road next week. Their startling uptick of quality chances is encouraging, as they struggled to score early in the season, and more time under their belts playing together will help limit future debilitating mistakes. Coach Volk intends to focus on the positives that have emerged rather than harp on the negatives.
“I just tell them to stay positive, keep their heads up,” said Volk. “All I can do is continue to stay positive with the guys. They’re down enough, I’m not gonna keep pushing them down. My job is to keep their heads up and keep their spirits going.”
The ‘Eaters are now 2-9 overall and 0-2 in conference play. They travel to Santa Barbara to take on the Gauchos on Thursday before visiting Cal Poly on Saturday.