For 90 emotionally and physically grueling minutes at Matador Field on Sunday, the Northridge men’s soccer squad proved it could play with (and defeat) the No. 3 team in the nation.
Coming into the match the Matadors’ postseason hopes were in danger, as they found themselves next to last in the Big West Conference. But with senior Robert Pate’s header from inside the box in the 77th minute of play, Northridge pulled off the 1-0 upset over a UC Santa Barbara team that ranked third nationally and sat alone atop the Big West undefeated.
Pate, who was subbed in for added height up front, called his second goal of the season the biggest of his life.
“That was probably my most significant,” Pate said. “The position we were in, 1-2 (in conference) and we really needed these three points, and it was the game-winner.”
The Matadors (7-5-1, 2-2 Big West) knew they had a daunting task at hand. UCSB (10-3-1, 4-1) was already 4-0 in conference, having beaten the likes of UC Irvine and Cal Poly, as well as crushing such national powers as Indiana and Rutgers. The Gauchos were riding a five-game winning streak, all of which were won by way of shutout.
But as the game developed, even people familiar with the UCSB program noted that they could not remember the last time an opponent pressured and attacked as hard as Northridge did. Rather than sit back and try not to get beat by a Gauchos squad that featured four players with four goals or more, the Matadors attacked in their offensive third of the field and took 18 shots, along with five corners and a number of free kicks.
“We always want to dictate the pace,” said CSUN coach Terry Davila. “Santa Barbara is a tough team to do it against. We’re happy we did it against probably one of the best teams in the nation.”
And they took control of the game with under 13 minutes to play. Freshman Rene Anguiano’s corner from the left side was received and passed by forward Cameron Sims to a positioned Pate, who headed it in past the UCSB goalie’s left side.
The play developed in front of the Matadors’ bench, and several players erupted in celebration and spilled onto the field in excitement over taking the lead.
The match was hotly contested on both sides and got very heated with 10 yellow cards, including one to Davila. Just ask Sims how testy the match got, as he was shoved in the face and went down for several seconds. Surprisingly, no card was issued in that exchange.
The upset lifted Northridge out of its next-to-last standing, and now has the team tied for the all-important fourth place in conference with Irvine. The top four teams in the Big West advance to the conference’s four-team playoff.
And the Matadors will look to continue their climb Wednesday when UC Davis, which is 2-4 in conference, comes to Northridge. Another CSUN win could conceivably place it as high as tied for third, depending on what Irvine and Cal State Fullerton – which are ahead in the standings – do in their matches.
“We want to get in the Big West playoffs just as bad as everybody else,” Davila said. “We showed some heart today … Davis is a tough quality opponent, we got to put our minds to it. They need a win just as bad as we do. So we know it’s going to be a war.”
Northridge was a team that had hit a three-game slide, but after Sunday, the team’s confidence level has to be as high as it has been all season.
“If this is No. 3, then we definitely can compete in the tournament,” said Pate. “We just got to win game to game.”