By: Stefan Curtis Jones
Photo Courtesy of UCI Athletics
The UC Irvine men’s soccer team secured a vital Big West Conference win against the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Mustangs this past Saturday at the Anteater Stadium. The win prevented Cal Poly from surpassing the Anteaters in the standings, forcing them to stay in fourth place. UCI moved to second place in the conference, putting them just one win away from being tied with UC Davis.
The match began with both sides displaying unwavering offensive aggression and getting shots off early in the box. Cal Poly wasted no time as senior forward Diego Alonso fired a low center shot at the 34 second mark that was saved by UCI’s graduate goalkeeper Ford Parker. UCI’s junior midfielder Christian Gutierrez responded with a shot at 9:58 that went high right.
The Mustangs remained poised on defense, blocking several consecutive shot attempts made by the Anteaters in the 11th minute. Six minutes later, Cal Poly’s sophomore goalkeeper Carlos Arce-Hurtado made a diving save to keep the score tied. UCI stayed composed and continued to make seamless passes as they marched up the field. After 34 minutes of nail-biter shots, the Anteaters took the lead when Gutierrez sent the ball low right into the goal.
The half ended with a combined 12 shots, 10 of which came from UCI. The overwhelming physicality from each team accrued 10 fouls, six of those being called on Cal Poly. Although they had more fouls than the Anteaters, the Mustangs’ brute force is what allowed them to block nine of Irvine’s 10 shot attempts.
Gutierrez created five shot opportunities for himself in the first half and was fortunate enough to have one shot go in and give his team the lead. Irvine continued to emphasize their space creation in the second half as well.
“…moving off the ball and creating space for each other” explained Gutierrez when asked how him and his team combatted Cal Poly’s lockdown defense.
Irvine slowed down the pace in the last 45 minutes of the game but kept the same offensive aggression, getting off seven additional shots. Cal Poly doubled their shot attempts in the second half and were relentlessly physical. Some of these shots were inches away from the goal, while others were right on target, forcing Parker to make a leaping save at 67:56 on a long shot from Cal Poly’s senior forward JoeMack Leonardo.
The two teams continued to trade shots as the half neared its end, until finally Gutierrez silenced the Mustangs by fiercely launching the ball, having it hit top post and going in, marking his second goal of the night. Gutierrez ended the match with two goals on a total of seven personal shot attempts.
“…speed is one thing, timing is another. So, if you get to do both of them, you have a big advantage” noted Gutierrez when asked about his skillful speed, which was Cal Poly’s biggest challenge to overcome.
Saturday night’s game was pivotal for the Anteaters as they prepare for the Big West tournament by getting their seventh win of the season. This dominant performance can also give them some beneficial momentum in their next game against Cal State Northridge on Nov. 2.