Heading into division play with three points, the UCI men’s soccer team looked to gain serious ground in the conference with matches against the top two squads in the Big West South, UC Riverside and CSUN. The ‘Eaters fell on the road at Riverside, but regrouped to take the win at home against CSUN.
The ‘Eaters were outmatched offensively and defensively by the first place Highlanders at the UCR Soccer Stadium Wednesday night in a 3-0 shutout. The Highlanders struck three times in the first half, supported by a stellar performance from junior goalkeeper Vincent Morales, who added eight saves to his conference-leading tally.
UCR senior midfielder Romario Lomeli paced the second most prolific offense in the conference, with two assists to go with one goal.
The ‘Eaters put forth an admirable offensive effort, and are no strangers to quality chances, but failed yet again to capitalize on their 22 shots, including eight on frame.
Followingthe road loss, the ‘Eaters vaulted themselves back into the playoff picture after prevailing over the visiting CSUN Matadors 4-3 in a back-and-forth match that saw three ties and three lead changes on Saturday night at Anteater Stadium. The four goals scored are the most by UCI in any match this season, and helped the ‘Eaters earn three much-needed points to remain in the thick of the Big West South Division.
Sophomore midfielder Ivan Canales set the tone for the ‘Eaters early, with a brace in the first half, while senior defender Thomas Janjigian and freshman forward Jose Ortiz each added a goal for the home team.
The ‘Eaters were able to capitalize on their 23 shots (nine on target), and the scoreboard finally reflected the amount of chances they created. Head coach Chris Volk credits sticking to the game plan and maintaining high effort on the offensive end.
“Some of our goals were second chance goals, but the guys were sniffing around and being in the right spots and just being hungry around the goal mouth,” said Volk. “It was a little scrappy tonight. It could have gone either way, and we’re just fortunate we were on the right end of it tonight.”
UCI found themselves down 1-0 in the sixth minute after CSUN sophomore defender Jumoke Hutton’s cross into the box traveled through a swarm of ‘Eater defenders and was knocked home by freshman Bar Shem Tov.
Facing a familiar early deficit, the ‘Eaters were able to respond quickly after some deft passing inside the box from Janjigian and Ortiz. Canales sniped the feed from Ortiz in the top corner for the equalizer in the ninth minute.
CSUN regained the lead in the 27th minute, going up 2-1 after converting a penalty kick, but the ‘Eaters were able to answer again only two minutes later.
After a yellow card was assessed to UCI senior defender Matthew Tilley in the box in the minute, CSUN regained the lead.
Canales tracked down a ball that was cleared by the Matadors after a corner kick and sent a rocket through the scrum that beat CSUN senior keeper Kevin Marquez to even the score 2-2.
Against similar circumstances earlier in the year, UCI often took themselves out of games when they found themselves in an early hole.
“They responded well,” said Volk. “I think earlier in the season, they kind of hung their heads, but they showed a lot of resiliency tonight. With everything we have been through this season, there’s one of two ways the guys can go, and they responded in the right way tonight.”
The ‘Eaters were able to snatch the lead before halftime with a screamer off Janjigian’s foot in the 42nd minute. Sophomore forward Felipe Silva corralled a loose ball deep in the attacking third and guided it towards Janjigian, who rifled it inside the far post to put UCI ahead 3-2.
UCI kept the pressure on going into the second half and nearly added an insurance goal out of the gate, but freshman forward Manny Acosta’s header hit the woodwork before being cleared by the Matador defense.
The Matadors snuck back into the match in the 60th minute when sophomore forward Dre Deas finished a lead pass from freshman midfielder Edwin Quiroz past Farmer to equalize at 3-3.
On their quest for the game winner, Canales and junior midfielder Giovanni Godoy cleanly advanced the ball into Matador territory. Canales set up a lurking Ortiz after drawing out the goalkeeper, as Ortiz sent it into the back of an open net to put the ‘Eaters up for good 4-3 in the 70th minute.
The trio of Godoy, Canales and Ortiz has seen extended playing time since the injuries of a few key starters, and are finally starting to mesh and create a final product more than just the sum of its parts.
“We have sustained a couple injuries. Luis [Leon] bagged a couple goals and hasn’t played since and Mario [Ortiz] got injured against Santa Barbara,” said Volk. “Godoy is now kind of getting into his form, and we are trying to find that complementary piece with him because his movement tonight was very good. The timing of his runs, holding the ball up was better, even though he lost it a few times. Jose is a little unpredictable, but he’s got a great left peg and he’s not a known quantity in our group, so he sort of brings a different element to it.”
CSUN managed to get a few good looks in the remaining minutes despite losing a man to a red card in the 75th minute. Their final quality chance came in the 86th minute when Shem Tov fired a shot that Farmer grabbed off the top shelf.
Farmer finished with five saves in his third career win, with sophomore Jorge Lara registering a sixth for the ‘Eater defense.
With the victory, UCI moves to 4-11 on the year with a 2-4 conference mark, while CSUN drops to 5-6-3 and 2-2-2 in conference.
Although the ‘Eaters are currently in last place in their division, they are within two points of a playoff spot and face Cal State Fullerton, 6-8-1 (2-3-1), for the OC Derby at Fullerton next Wednesday.
Fullerton head coach George Kuntz coached UCI from 1995-2013, with Volk as his lead assistant for 17 years, adding fuel to the fire of the rivalry.
“We’re going to prepare for the next game, which just happens to be at Fullerton,” said Volk, coolly. “But for our players and anybody associated with the Irvine program, playing Fullerton is the game you always get up for.”