UC Irvine men’s soccer (1-1-1) did not upset in their home opener Friday night, putting up a gritty effort to come back from behind and even out an aggressive contest against Penn State (0-1-1).
“It’s obviously exciting to come back to playing on campus…in front of our community…in front of people who care about us [and] to display the hard work we’ve been putting in during practice to get better and to represent this university and community to the best of our ability,” head coach Yossi Raz said following his team’s first appearance at Anteater Stadium this season.
After giving up an early goal in the first half, the ‘Eaters remained composed and continued to fire away at the Nittany Lions. Their efforts came into fruition in the 67th minute when redshirt senior Mario Ortiz blitzed up the right wing and crossed it into the box toward senior forward Giovanni Godoy who headed to fellow senior forward Christian Carrillo for a clean ping pong conversion.
While Carrillo’s goal turned out to be his sole attempt and clean look at the net on the night, Godoy checked out with a match-high four shots (two on frame) to go along with his assist on the crucial game-tying play.
Godoy’s high energy offense came without a surprise as the fourth year veteran came into the match second in the Big West with a 1.5 shots on goal per game average.
UCI edged out Penn State in shot attempts, 16 (five on goal)-11 (four on goal), as well as corner kicks, 8-4.
The match was not a pretty one from the onset with seven total yellow cards and one red card thrown out before the end of the 110-minute marathon.
By the end of the first period alone, 12 total fouls were whistled with the referees calling multiple stoppages in the match. Together, both teams went on to collect 27 fouls—16 on Penn State and 11 on UCI.
“[Staying composed] is what good teams do….they compete very hard and they are able to maintain their focus in order to execute the game plans that their coaches map for them,” coach Raz said on how to play through a highly aggressive match. “Penn State had a fantastic game plan with quality players and they also competed very hard…and so did we.”
In the first half, both teams came out swinging, taking on five shots apiece. The Nittany Lions asserted themselves first, cracking the game open with a bomb that was collected by UCI redshirt sophomore keeper Alex Waldron.
It turned out to be a day of firsts for Waldron as the Orangevale, Calif. native earned his first shutout after snagging three saves in his first start of his first appearance of the season.
The ‘Eaters retaliated with a string of shots that teased the fans who were eager to see what first year coach Raz’s bunch had to prove after a rather upsetting season last year.
“It felt really also to be back in front of our fans with a different mindset [and] new energy…we definitely wanted to show that from the beginning,” Carrillo said. “We didn’t have the best season last year but this is going to be completely different…different energy and different game plan…a completely different team.”
Penn State, however, attempted to spoil the fun when they struck the net first on their third attempt—a flick that lobbed over a diving Waldron in the 32nd minute.
In the second half, UCI brought up their energy, putting up an 8-2 shot advantage over Penn State. After tapping at the post three times, including a beautiful header attempt from Godoy, the ‘Eaters prevailed 67 minutes in on Carrillo’s bouncing header that notched the score up.
“At the half, we realized that the first half was gone and we couldn’t do anything about that [but] we knew that this game was far from over,” Carrillo said. “We knew that we had a lot of good opportunities and coach [Raz] made a point that we weren’t sticking to the game plan 100 percent and he made an emphasis to go back to the game plan and I think we really did that well and that’s what gave us a lot of opportunities in the second half and we were able to capitalize on one of those.
The ‘Eaters took on four more shots before the end of regulation but with the match still at a draw, both teams headed into the golden goal extra time periods.
With the high intensity and scrappy play from the ‘Eaters and the Nittany Lions pushing onto the 10-minute extra time periods, both teams continued to trade shots, including a number of penalty kicks.
At the 104th minute mark, UCI sophomore forward Jose Ortiz gave the ‘Eaters a final attempt, a long-range strike that hit clinked the post and drew some teeth clinching exclamations from the fans.
UCI has an opportunity to build their undefeated streak to three when they return to Anteater Stadium at 7:00pm Sunday to close out a double header that will begin with UCI women’s soccer team hosting the Toledo Rockets at 4:00pm
“Whether we win, whether we lose, whatever the score is, we always talk about improving…it’s a process,” Carillo said. “It’s a long season and we just have to get better with each and every game because all the other teams are going to get better as they catch rhythm.”