UCI men’s soccer (5-13-1, 3-6-1) ended their season with a two-game homestand this past week, hosting UC Riverside on Wednesday and their Orange County rivals Cal State Fullerton on Saturday. New team member Julio Godoy, who recently signed with the squad through collaboration with Team IMPACT, served as honorary team captain and motivated the ‘Eaters during both matches as they played inspired soccer that included a come from behind victory and a hard fought-draw to conclude their season.
With Julio cheering from the sidelines, the ‘Eaters were spurred to a 2-1 victory of visiting UC Riverside (9-9-1, 4-5-1), thanks to a pair of screamers by senior midfielder Michael Sperber and fourth year junior midfielder Randall McDermott in the late stages of Wednesday’s match.
Sperber’s goal was his first since his sophomore season and McDermott now has two for the year, both game-winners.
Riverside controlled the pace in the early going, running on the ‘Eaters and finding the open man with ease. UCI freshman keeper Alex Waldron stayed busy registering three saves in the first half and keeping the ‘Eaters in the match as they entered the half tied 0-0.
The Highlanders’ consistent offensive activity paid off in the 56th minute after senior midfielder Jacob Arrieta finally pushed one past Waldron. Senior midfielder Romario Lomeli played a free kick from 25 yards out that Arrieta was able to head home to take advantage of the ‘Eaters’ weakness against set pieces throughout the year.
“It’s been our Achilles heel all season,” said head coach Chris Volk.
Sperber almost solely willed the ‘Eaters to an equalizer in the 79th minute navigating through a slew of Highlander defenders before a hand ball awarded UCI a free kick, but they were not able to capitalize.
Sperber got his redemption in the 84th minute as he controlled a clearance 35 yards out, and blasted a frozen rope past the Highlanders’ backup goalkeeper David Heredia who was cheating to one side.
With UCI back in the match, Sperber celebrated the score and emphatically pointed toward Julio on the ‘Eaters bench.
“I hope that inspires him, because he sure inspires us,” said Sperber.
Riverside nearly crept back on top two minutes later, but were shut down again by Waldron, who snuffed out the attack and got to the rebound preserving the tie with mere minutes to play.
The sequence led to a fast break for the ‘Eaters, as senior defender Noah Gaines led a streaking McDermott into enemy territory. Riding on the momentum of Sperber’s deep goal, McDermott let one rip from outside the box, slicing it with his right foot around the keeper to give UCI the lead for good.
“This is our senior season, and the team has to go on our back tonight,” said McDermott. “That’s what we were aiming for. [Sperber] hit a banger, then I reciprocated.”
McDermott was also quick to cite Julio as inspiration for their comeback and highlight the role he has played in keeping his team going.
“He was a light in a dark tunnel for us. Although we’re not in the postseason, Julio gave us that extra motivation we needed to fight through this game, just like he’s been fighting since he’s been diagnosed. We’re glad he’s on the team now, and we got to give the majority of the credit of this win to him.”
Cal State Fullerton
The ‘Eaters’ season finale ended in a chippy 1-1 tie against visiting Cal State Fullerton (8-8-3, 4-3-3) in round two of the OC Derby on UCI’s senior night. Seven seniors played their final match as members of the UCI program in front of a packed house at Anteater Stadium: Thomas Janjigian, Michael Sperber, Noah Gaines, Edgardo Molina, Matthew Tilley, Elliot Farmer and Randall McDermott. Janjigian and Sperber also joined 10 other ‘Eaters in history to start at least 70 matches during their collegiate careers.
Five minutes in, Fullerton nearly struck first as a free kick just outside the box was sent in and clanked off the post and out of bounds.
The ‘Eaters would fight back, peppering Fullerton’s senior keeper David Elias to the tune of eight first-half shots and broke through to open the scoring in the 10th minute.
Expert ball movement and possession control culminated in Eddie Molina scoring his first goal of the season after sophomore midfielder Ivan Canales redirected a cross from Janjigian that Molina was able to sneak by Elias.
“The guys kept telling me you’re going to score today,” said Molina. “I just kept that in mind and when I got the chance I was able to put it in.”
Momentum shifted over to the Titans in the 25th minute, when Fullerton capitalized on an ‘Eater mistake on an attempted defensive clearance. Senior Titan defender Alex Heilmann corralled the loose ball and sent a pass back to the top of the box that senior midfielder Ruben Alvarez hammered home to tie the score at 1-1.
Both teams clamped down on defense in the scoreless second half, and foul play threatened to muddy up senior night in the 80th minute. Junior Titan midfielder Robert Coronado was sent off after his second yellow card for his part in a scuffle that broke out, leaving Fullerton with ten men for the rest of the match.
UCI could not capitalize on the man advantage, but came within inches of a golden goal in the first overtime period as junior midfielder Giovanni Godoy volleyed a cross out of the air that was barely knocked away by Elias.
The score held and after 110 minutes the match ended in a 1-1 tie.
The draw brings UCI’s record to 5-13-1 for the year and 3-6-1 in Big West play.
Although the ‘Eaters end their season disappointingly short of the playoffs, all of the departing seniors saw action in an NCAA tournament once or twice in their college careers at UCI.
“The fraternity and the brotherhood that exists with this program in the 30 plus years is something they’re all part of,” added Volk. “The relationships and friendships, they’re gonna remember those more than they remember the results.”