It may have still been light out but junior midfielder Ivan Canales provided an early firework show for fans at the UC Irvine men’s soccer team’s (6-4-2, 1-1-1) conference home opener late Thursday afternoon, cracking home two goals in the opening half to help the ‘Eaters take their first Big West win, 3-1, over Cal Poly (5-6-0, 1-2-0).
Canales knocked in the premiere goal within the first two minutes of the match when a ball that was sent high into the box from redshirt senior midfielder Mario Ortiz bounced right towards him for a perfect set up to flick it past the keeper.
Less than 10 minutes later, defender Erick Gallinar blitzed up to the offensive end of the field and from the touchline, dished one back to Canales who cashed in another to give the ‘Eaters a quick 2-0 advantage.
“Right off the bat [in] the first half…we decided we were going to come out with a lot of energy and that’s what we did,” Canales said. “Our midfields were able to put balls into the box…[and] I think both of [the goals] were kinda just about me getting that second ball [and] when the defenders tried to clear them, I was able to run in, get the touches, and score.”
With the brace, Canales has logged seven goals on 23 attempts on the year. With 15 of those 23 shots getting on target, the Santa Ana, Calif. native leads the squad with a 56.5 percent shots on goal average.
“Ivan is a very talented player [and] the rest of [the players] played as well to set him up,” head coach Yossi Raz said. “I think the play between [Giovanni] Godoy and [Erick] Gallinar to set up Ivan on a pretty good service [showed] that all in all the energy was right.”
Canales may have very well finished with four goals on the night as all four of his shots landed right on target. His third attempt in the 16th minute drew a roar from fans as the attempt looked good from the sidelines but, in actuality, was cleared by a diving Mustangs’ keeper who made the recovery that was just inches away from sounding the musical cues again.
While UCI led the way early, Cal Poly stuck around, a credit to their hard fought defense. Making some timely stoppages, the opposition turned excellent defense into efficient offense, going on runs of their own. Their efforts are marked by their slight shot advantage over the ‘Eaters at 12-11, tying UCI in shots on goal with five for the night.
“We talk about [staying composed] all the time,” Canales said. “Our coach tells us that the game is 90 minutes…[and] he makes it clear that we’re not going to dominant all 90 minutes and that we just have to be patient, stay compact, and be able to get a rhythm again.”
Continuing to battle, the Mustangs came back to life in the 39th minute when sophomore midfielder Christian Enriquez made a quick strip and steal near center field and pushed it ahead to a streaking junior forward Jared Pressley for a goal to cut the deficit, 2-1.
“We played against a very organized, well coached, and talented team… they are going to have their momentum going for them too,” coach Raz said. “Unfortunately we gave a goal and hopefully we will learn it and [that] when opponents have their moments, we know how to bend without breaking.”
Fueled by their latest conversion, the Mustangs emerged as the aggressors in the second half, outshooting UCI 7-3.
UCI’s redshirt sophomore Alex Waldron, however, brushed off the goal he had conceded in the first to successfully defend the fort, making four saves on the night—a few of which he had turned away with the sun beaming right into his eyes.
Waldron held off the Mustangs’ from equalizing the match long enough for the ‘Eaters to make one significant run of their sparing three attempts. Just a few ticks over the 61st minute, junior midfielder Daniel Crisostomo found a slight opening to sneak a through ball to fellow midfielder Giovanni Godoy who led a breakaway, drew some space with a stiff arm, and staring down the goal and keeper before launching it into the nets to get the separation back up 3-1.
Godoy’s goal keeps him evenly paced along with Canales at seven as the two continue to lead the team and conference in successful conversions.
With the Mustangs failing to find another clean look or answer to Godoy’s bomb, the final 10-second count sounded off the match to hand UCI their first victory and three points in conference play, good enough for fourth place in the South Division.
“From the results that were brought back from the road trip, our backs were against the wall and we needed to perform,” coach Raz said. “The team knew that and we prepared as well as could.”
UCI will look to carry their momentum into a tough test Saturday when they return to Anteater Stadium to host a North Division front running UC Santa Barbara (5-4-2, 3-0-0) that has been undefeated thus far in conference play at 7:00pm.
“We’ve learned that in the Big West, the energy, the excitement, the grittiness, and the ability to come focused and ready to play are all very important,” coach Raz said. “we’ve learned these lessons on the road and so hopefully we can [continue to] capitalize on it at home and be energetic and enthusiastic.”