By Marvin Luu
In a high-octane battle between the frontrunners of the North and South Big West men’s soccer divisions, the UC Irvine men’s soccer team (6-4-3, 3-0-1) held their own for 110 minutes of action against UC Santa Barbara (6-4-3, 1-1-2) to end the match on a deadlock, 1-1, Saturday, Oct. 7, at Anteater Stadium.
The ‘Eaters were the first to strike one home, courtesy of a penalty kick goal earned at the top of the box. Off a quick dispossession near midfield, a through ball found its way to Giovanni Godoy who was tripped up after he sprinted full-steam-ahead towards UCSB’s box. With a yellow card assessed on the play and the clock stopped at the 28th minute mark, redshirt senior midfielder Mario Ortiz sent it in to give the ‘Eaters the 1-0 advantage. Ortiz’s goal was his third on the season, seventh in his career.
“We’re a passing team [and] our players are mobile going forward,” Ortiz said of his team’s ability to create the match’s first goal. “[The play] was a vertical run and luckily Godoy span away from his defender and got the PK and I just went up there finished it.”
For much of the game, UCI’s forwards got all the way back to help their backline fortify against an aggressive, offensively-minded UCSB team, fielding 14 shots in 83 minutes. However, on their 15th attempt late in the second half, Gauchos freshman forward Rodney Michael found an opening around the left side of the keeper’s net and launched through the equalizer.
“[USCB] has excellent front forwards that are very diverse and have many tools that can hurt you and the idea was to be well balanced and to defend in a good way,” head coach Yossi Raz said. “We did that for most of the game [and] in some instances we didn’t do it as well, but I see growth [and] I see development in this program. And I think we are getting closer and closer to the pictures we want to create, and we will keep plugging and keep trying to improve.”
Both squads, the conference’s top two leaders in drawing offside calls, pushed the ball forward and collectively fired up 42 shots on the night with the ‘Eaters taking a slight edge with 22 shots.
Of their 22 shots, UCI landed nine on the mark as the Gauchos managed to place just three on target, a testament to the efforts of the ‘Eaters backline.
“We knew coming into this game that it was going to be a hard one [but] we were prepared in our trainings and we did what we had to do,” freshman defender Erick Gallinar said. “We had to get a little more narrow because they were attacking us from the inside so we had to communicate a bit more…and making sure we were compact.”
Guarding the net for the Gauchos, Carrillo, who turned away 28 shots in 10 matches, had another extraordinary night, snagging seven saves, including a number of powerful ‘Eater strikes that nearly put UCI over the top.
For the ‘Eaters, redshirt sophomore Alex Waldron was credited with just two saves but had cleared some dangerous crosses and lobs around the box.
Known to be an aggressive, high-contact team who has drawn multiple cards in their last nine matches, the Gauchos were assessed three yellow cards on the night — the first of which the ‘Eaters took full advantage of to set up Ortiz’s goal.
18 shots were fired to kick off the first half with each team landing a shot on the mark.
With an ability to move the ball up rapidly, UCSB was the first to storm the ‘Eaters’ net, using a corner kick in the 12th minute to set up their first major attempt: a dangerous header that Waldron managed to glove.
UCI senior midfielder Giovanni Godoy, the conference’s leader in goals (7), points (16) and shots (37), saw UCI’s first best chance at a conversion in the 17th minute when he received a ball that snuggled through a trailing UCSB defender and subsequently struck it into the box where UCSB freshman keeper Alan Carrillo stopped it.
Having seen their near goal, the ‘Eaters steadily continued to work their passing game to create a few more chances. UCI’s first goal, however, would not come from their stable passing but rather a quick, spontaneous turnover and rare set piece opportunity from a yellow card.
In retaliation of Ortiz’s goal, UCSB countered UCI’s offensive barrage by leading an offensive barrage of their own. Using sheer speed to their advantage, the Gauchos transitioned from defense to offense in a blink of an eye and kept firing shots toward UCI’s goal in rapid succession.
Outshooting UCI 9-6 in the second half, the Gauchos appeared to gas the ‘Eaters out with their quick blitzing offense and would come through in the 83rd minute to knot up the match 1-1.
UCI kicked off the first 10-minute overtime period with a designed play for junior midfielder Ivan Canales who went straight down the middle from center field for a strike that was deflected; second UCI attempts on the rebound were also subsequently cleared.
The ‘Eaters had five more looks at the net, including a stretch that began in the 95th minute when a header shot from senior midfielder Alda Perez clinked off the post and its subsequent deflection was received by Godoy who popped it back up at the net but Carrillo somehow managed to snag it.
“We’re trying to be a rhythmic team that plays through lines and creates opportunities,” coach Raz said. “I think we created nice opportunities today. Unfortunately, we only converted in one of them so we need to keep our focus in front of the net a little bit better…but all in all, we had nice rhythm offensively…[and] had a nice brand of soccer for our fans to watch.”
Still tied up at 1-1, it was all UCSB in the second extra time period. A little over the 100th minute mark, the Gauchos had their best chance on a set piece that turned into a header opportunity but Waldron was there to intercept it to secure the tie.
“I think the backline did pretty good,” Ortiz said. “Although they 20 shots they didn’t have really clear shots…they were much more like scuffles in the box. I feel like we dominated the game when we pushed higher up the field but unfortunately we conceded one.”
While the ‘Eaters managed to hold on to force the draw, the team was also minutes away from taking home a victory. UCI will work on their getting their next win back at Anteater Stadium against UC Riverside Wednesday night at 7:00pm. With a loud and spirited crowd Saturday, coach Raz hopes to rally the fans once more.
“We are creating an ‘Eater army that has been doing a great job,” coach Raz said. “We felt them…we felt their support…we heard their singing and I think that the boys work themselves a little bit harder because of that and I just hope that they are going to continue coming and keep growing in numbers.”