On paper, the UC Irvine men’s soccer team (7-6-3, 2-3-2) and Cal State Fullerton (8-6-2, 3-3-1) were as evenly matched as any two teams could be in their Wednesday night contest at Anteater Stadium. Both teams launched up 11 shots apiece—each shooting exactly four in the first half and seven in the second. Fullerton landed four on the mark for Fullerton as UCI took a slight edge with five.
At times, the offensively-minded ‘Eaters looked to be in complete control of the attack, using their swift ball movement to keep possession for the majority of the first half; their push would earn them a 7-1 advantage in corners that translated into some nice chances in the box.
However, Wednesday night’s match would ultimately come down to a stray Titan play—a breakaway transition that evidently swung the momentum to Fullerton and would down the ‘Eaters, 3-1, despite a retaliation goal a little over the midway point of the second half.
“They are a very good transitional team and that’s what they do well,” head coach Yossi Raz said. “They run in transition extremely well…we knew that but we failed in that moment. We gave the ball a bit carelessly in a bad area of the field and off that we didn’t defend properly and then we went down 1-0.”
The game defining play came in the 32nd minute as Titan redshirt junior Samuel Goni blitzed ahead and lingered near the box where he received a clean, straight pass and fired it into the right post to give Fullerton the 1-0 advantage. Goni came out in the second half with the same sharp mindset and in the 58th minute, he found himself in the receiving end of another timely set up in which he struck hard towards UCI’s nets. An ‘Eater defender was there to come atop it but his deflection was fruitless as the ball still tipped passed the net to make it a 2-0 deficit for the ‘Eaters.
Goni’s two quick plays on the ball earned him his first career brace and ultimately won the game for the Titans.
The ‘Eaters did work their way back in the second half, stringing together a few great opportunities and looking like the aggressive team that they were to start the match.
Coming fresh out of two matches in which he had collected a brace in each, senior forward Giovanni Godoy carried the ‘Eaters’ offense as he challenged the keeper and Titan backline with all three of shot attempts in the second half hitting the target in quick succession. Godoy went on to the pace the team with five total shots to add to extend his conference leading attempts to 52 on the year thus far. He also currently sits atop the Big West with 11 goals and 24 points.
Despite his close calls, Godoy did not land the ‘Eaters’ first shot on the night. Instead, it would be redshirt senior midfielder Mario Ortiz who would go on to breath some life into UCI.
Dancing around a few Titan defenders with some nifty side to side jukes in the 68th minute, Ortiz faked a couple of passes before creating some distance between himself and his on-ball defender. From roughly 40 yards out, the Los Angeles, Calif. native took the gutsy shot which paid off as the ball sailed high over a leaping Fullerton keeper to cut the deficit, 2-1.
“Mario is a bright player,” coach Raz said. “He made a beautiful play on top of the box and put the ball high enough to go over and it was a good play…but we need to do other parts well if we want to be a great team.”
While the ‘Eaters did attempt to capitalize on Ortiz’s play on a subsequent header opportunity that came up just short and another chance that was turned the other way after an ‘Eater was checked for a handball, a minor lapse in the defense gave Fullerton the only look they needed to lock in the victory.
With a little over seven minutes left until the clock hit 90, Goni, who appeared to have the game of his season Wednesday night, snagged a steal and pushed up the left flank to set up a teammate with a cross that soon became the icing as junior midfielder Ross McPhie sent it straight into the net for the 3-1 decision.
In a tightly contested south division no teams are more than two points ahead of one another, the ‘Eaters lost their top spot—which they had shared with CSUN (8-6-2, 3-2-2) at eight points apiece— and fall to third as Fullerton picked up three points out of their win Wednesday to go for 10 points and the second place spot.
Given the fact that CSUN won in their matchup, against Riverside (6-2-12, 2-5-0) later that night, the Matadors remain atop the conference at 11 points.
“We played good ball possession oriented soccer [and] we moved the ball well from side to side to create some good opportunities,” coach Raz said, “But at the end of the day, we need to learn how to defend a little bit better if we want to be a contender in this conference.”
UCI will return to Anteater Stadium Saturday where they will look to turn the tide against CSUN at 7:00pm. Coach Raz believes that the improvements and adjustments will have to be made not from the offense, but from the other end of the field.
“We have to get better in transition, we have to press the ball better, and we have to individually win battles defensively,” coach Raz said. “There are a lot of elements that we have to get better at…but we have a very good coaching staff…and players are learning everyday. I saw a lot of positives and I also saw a lot of negatives [tonight] and were going to work on the negatives and try to be better. Hopefully we will be a little bit better on senior day and we’ll go from there and see what happens.”
Saturday’s match is also the team’s senior night where they will honor four ‘Eaters in Godoy, Ortiz, Christian Carrillo, and Alda Parez.