Men’s soccer wins conference opener in tense affair

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Men’s soccer wins conference opener in tense affair

Junior midfielder Giovanni Aguilar celebrates a close win against CSU Fullerton on Oct. 9. Aguilar had five shots and one assist during the game.

Junior midfielder Giovanni Aguilar celebrates a close win against CSU Fullerton on Oct. 9. Aguilar had five shots and one assist during the game.

Junior midfielder Giovanni Aguilar celebrates a close win against CSU Fullerton on Oct. 9. Aguilar had five shots and one assist during the game.

Junior midfielder Giovanni Aguilar celebrates a close win against CSU Fullerton on Oct. 9. Aguilar had five shots and one assist during the game.

Alexander Nino

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The Matadors shook off their recent struggles to win their conference opener against the league-leading CSU Fullerton Titans 1-0 on Oct. 9. The win snapped a three-game home losing streak for the Matadors.

“It was a typical Big West game,” said Davila. “It’s hard to get victories in this league. There’s great coaches, great teams. You get old coaching in this league.”

After losing four of the last five games prior to this Big West matchup, CSUN wasn’t the only squad seeking to turn their recent rough patch around. Fullerton had lost their last two contests after winning eight straight games to begin the year.

The anxiety was apparent from the start as both squads carelessly turned the ball over in the midfield throughout the start of the game.

“We’re pretty even teams,” said Davila. “We have a tough schedule. After the Washington game, we really haven’t gotten our stride back. Our last two wins have been tough, scrap it out games. We just got to get a little bit clearer on the ball.”

The first prime attacking opportunity for either side came in the 15th minute, when Titans freshman midfielder Sebastian Cruz corralled a long pass from the right side with graduate defender Ehi Isibor representing the only line of defense. A precise slide tackle from Isibor snuffed the approach and allowed the Matadors to regain control.

The lack of offense caused frustrations for both sides, as two yellow cards were distributed against CSUN in the first 20 minutes, causing Davila to voice his displeasure for the referee’s aggressiveness.

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Brendan Hildreth, redshirt junior, reacts to a yellow card given in the defensive side of the field. Photo credit: Tim Strong

The drought would end in the 25th minute when a Matador corner kick by junior midfielder Julio Rubio was played to junior midfielder Giovanni Aguilar on the right side, who crossed in a floater towards sophomore midfielder Omar Grey who headed home the opening goal.

“Before Julio even got the ball, I walked down to the post and something in my head said, ‘They’re not paying attention to you, so you’re going to be free,’” said Grey. “I just tried to be silent and hide away from the defenders until I got open. Once he crossed the ball, I got a free chance and executed.”

The score was Grey’s second of the year and his first since the opener at Ohio State.

Back-to-back corners from the Matadors opened up the second half of play, but neither attempt could get through the Titan defense.

CSUN continued to frustrate Fullerton as they had several more opportunities in the ensuing minutes, including a cross in the 59th minute that led to two shots on goal from senior forward Johnny Rodriguez and a bicycle kick attempt from junior forward Daniel Trejo. Both required strong saves from Fullerton senior goalkeeper Paul-Andre Guerin.

Things got chippy in the 74th minute when complaints from the Fullerton staff about perceived unequal calls from the referee led to jawing between both squads coaches and players.

“They were just talking about who they thought should have been expelled from the game,” said Davila. “Nothing bad. They’re just trying to protect their players, and we’re trying to protect ours. I thought Fullerton did a great job with the referees. We have no problems with them.”

The influx of penalties would lead to senior defender Alex Lara being sent off with a red card in the 77th minute, forcing the Matadors to play the rest of the match a man down.

The Titans mounted consistent offense, taking advantage of the extra player, but a Matador counter attack started by a nice bit of skill and a beautiful pass to a wide open Trejo from junior midfielder John Andresen was deflected by the keeper. The rebound attempt from Rubio sailed over an open net, generating a loud gasp from the home supporters.

Several more close calls were denied by both squads keepers, keeping the final score at 1-0.

CSUN outshot Fullerton 19-14, including an 8-5 advantage on goal.

“This game was huge,” said Grey. “Mentally, at practice, with those couple games we lost, you could see our confidence and demeanor drop just a little bit. Then you have (the coaching staff) continually bumping up our confidence, telling us to keep our heads high. It’s big because it sets the standard and sets an example and it’s always great to start out good.”

The Matadors will seek to maintain their standards when they travel to take on the UC Davis Aggies on Saturday Oct. 12, before returning home on Oct. 16 against the Sacramento State Hornets at 7 p.m. at Matador Soccer Field.