The reward could be thrilling, but the down-turn could be painful.
Wednesday at Matador Field, on Senior Day, the Cal State Northridge men’s soccer team faced a Cal State Fullerton team that was fighting for the very same fourth -place finish to secure the final spot in the Big West Conference’s four-team playoff.
It took more than 100 minutes of action to determine that CSUN (9-7-2, 4-4-1 BW), thanks to a golden goal in the first overtime that gave it an emotional 1-0 victory, would be the team one step away from clinching fourth place.
Senior forward Cameron Sims snuck into the Titans’ box and tapped in the winner off a Yuval Barak assist in the first 10-minute overtime. The win now drops Fullerton (7-9-2, 3-5-1) to fifth place with 10 points, but depending on the results of UC Davis’ game at UC Santa Barbara, CSUN could remain tied with 13 points.
The Matadors now hold their playoff fate in their own hands going into the season finale at UC Irvine. A win or tie would propel them into the Big West playoff as the fourth seed. Should they lose, and Davis ends the season with 13 points of its own, the Aggies would advance because of tie-breaker rules.
“We were plugging the whole game, we were trying to get at it,” CSUN Coach Terry Davila said. “We got a little bit desperate in the second half … I wish we could have [scored] sooner, but I guess that’s the way our season has been going, kind of dramatic.”
Before the match, the 10 seniors on the squad were honored with their families on the field.
“[Assistant Coach] Yossi [Raz] and I have taken pride in graduating our athletes,” he said. “Having 10 seniors come through our program, it just shows the improvement of our APR and our kids graduating. We’re very ecstatic about that.”
Davila, also a CSUN alumnus and former player, is in his 11th season as head coach.
“Right now this victory feels good. But for them in the future, getting their degrees is huge and we’re very proud as an athletic department and soccer program.”
Both sides came out fast and looking for the game’s first goal. The possibility existed that Fullerton would settle for the qualifying tie. But the Titans attacked forward nearly as hard as the Matadors, taking four shots to CSUN’s eight in the first half.
By the end of regulation, it was Northridge that had the advantage in ball possession, having out-shot the Titans 16-12.
The golden goal was Sims’ seventh goal of the season, by far tops on the team. But even after the critical final match of CSUN’s two-game homestand, he said it was important to not get too emotional over the victory, but rather keep the team focused.
“Personally, I’m happy,” said Sims when asked where his goal ranked all-time in his career. “I’m going to leave this field happy, I’m going to leave this school really happy. Knowing I gave it my all.”
Saturday’s match at Irvine will have a hint of déjà vu. Last season, Irvine blocked the Matadors from securing the final playoff spot with a 2-1 victory, and could do it again. Regardless of the scenario going into the match, Davila said he likes the fact that his team controls its own destiny.