UC Irvine Men’s Soccer (7-7-2, 5-1-2) defeated the Cal State Northridge Matadors (3-13-1, 2-5-1), 2-1, at Anteater Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 23. With this win, Irvine secures the luxury of hosting their tournament opener at Anteater Stadium.
The game was a contrast of strategy: the Matadors played a physical game of control while the ‘Eaters put on a fast technical clinic. This opposition put both teams at a stalemate until the 77th minute, when the game shifted.
From the first kick, the Anteaters seemed a step ahead of their opponents and were eager to flaunt their speedy advantage. Players like junior midfielder Ashish Chattha ran their defenders down the field, setting them up for vicious dribble moves that netted wide open crosses. Most of the time, these crosses fell harmlessly into open green grass where a Matador gingerly gathered it.
This lack of offensive support had a simple cause: the Matador’s physicality. While we might traditionally think of a matador manipulating a bull with guile and subtlety, CSUN does so with shoves and pulls. Any offensive player attempting to finish a possession was rerouted by a series of grabs, forced into a distant position away from the action.
This approach was highly effective for CSUN, slowing the Anteaters’ offense and forcing them to play 1vs11 soccer, but it also drew the attention of the referees. The Matadors racked up a total of 21 fouls. Including both yellow and red cards. Almost all of these calls came from their harassment on the ball — not their similarly present off-ball conduct.
CSUN’s offense found it much harder to replicate this strategy, running into the largely physical Irvine defense. Going into the 56th minute, the game seemed an interminable stalemate. When a red card was called on CSUN junior defender Alex Lemus, the tide shifted.
“It changed the equilibrium of the game. There were more open spaces, we were able to find the areas we want to be in,” UCI head coach Yossi Raz said.
The Anteaters sent probing attacks, slowly increasing their coordination as they exploited the missing man in defense. Finally, Chattha took advantage of an out of position goalkeeper and sent a shot from deep into the back of the net in the 77th minute. Relief was apparent on all players’ faces as they rushed together to celebrate.
Irvine’s energy had placated after the goal, now playing much looser and freer. Just four minutes after Chattha’s goal, redshirt junior forward Axel Adler scored a second one. He flashed his speed and skill by infiltrating the back of the defense and putting the ball just out of the goalie’s reach.
This looseness, however, was not without its consequences — some of the Eater defensive tenacity was lost. In the 85th minute, the ball got caught in a scrum of Anteaters and Matadors. Directly in front of Irvine’s goal, CSUN redshirt senior midfielder John Andersen poked the ball just past the threshold.
If one hadn’t been privy to the score or game, one would have thought CSUN had just scored the winning goal in the World Cup. The Matadors on the field mobbed Andersen and their bench went berserk. The Anteaters appeared confused more than anything else.
Despite the furious celebration from the Matadors, the ‘Eater offense held the ball and played for time. CSUN was unable to even attempt another shot and the final whistle blew, 2-1 Irvine.
The Anteaters look to extend their win streak to four as they travel to Fullerton to take on the Titans on Saturday, Oct. 30 at 7 p.m.
Benjamin Hendricks is a Sports Intern for the fall 2021 quarter. He can be reached at email@example.com.