Back-and-forth battle ends in draw for CSUN men’s soccer

Matadors forward Jamar Ricketts, 11, sprints to try and catch a Vaqueros player at the Performance Soccer Field in Northridge, Calif., on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022.

Justin Parrott, Reporter

Coming off a 1-1 tie with Saint Mary’s College on Sept. 21, CSUN men’s soccer (3-2-3) focused on returning to the win column against University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (2-3-2) Saturday night, but clutch defense from both sides ended the game scoreless.

The Matadors were seeking their fourth win of the season as they looked ahead to Big West Conference play, with their last win coming against University of Nevada, Las Vegas on Sept. 4. CSUN and UTRGV were evenly matched throughout the game, each generating multiple scoring chances in the 0-0 draw.

Right from the kickoff, the Vaqueros pressured the CSUN defense. Defender Jan Engels got the action started, receiving a pass from the right side of the field. Dribbling up the field, he blasted a shot directly at the goal, smoking the ball right at CSUN goalkeeper Cooper Wenzel’s hands, but the sophomore keeper made the save.

The Matadors receive a yellow card after a dispute with a University of Texas Rio Grande Valley player, at the Performance Soccer Field in Northridge, Calif., on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022. (Renee Rothe)

Eleven minutes into the first half, the Matadors responded by generating offense of their own. Forward Jamar Ricketts controlled the ball after it took a deflection off a UTRGV defender right outside the penalty box. Ricketts pushed the pace, passing to forward Jack Rhead who headed the ball left of the goal.

Throughout the first half, Ricketts continued to make his presence felt. With just under 30 minutes left, he dribbled up the middle of the field with a Vaqueros defender on his tail. As he moved toward the goal, he took a shot into Vaqueros goalkeeper Alexis Gonzalez’s hands.

The Vaqueros recovered quickly and generated a corner kick less than two minutes later. As the ball was in the air, it ricocheted between two defenders and landed near forward Jason Robles, who shot it down the middle for it to be saved by Wenzel. A minute later, UTRGV had another corner kick. Midfielder Raul Carrillo made two CSUN defenders miss in the open field, booting the ball left of the goal.

In the last minutes of the first half, a foul on UTRGV defender Tristan Singh gave the Matadors a free kick inside Vaqueros territory. Kicking from the far end of the field, CSUN pushed the attack before an offside ended the play.

Matadors head coach Terry Davila praised how good his defense was throughout the game, holding the Vaqueros scoreless despite them firing two shots on goal to CSUN’s one in the first half.

“We defended well to keep them from scoring,” Davila said. “Rarely did they get a clean look at our goal which was good.”

In the second half, the Matadors offense continued to stay hot, attempting to set the tone. Six minutes in, forward David Diaz secured a throw-in, dribbling to the right side of the field. As he surveyed his options, he passed the ball to Rhead in the middle of the field. Rhead looked to score but missed high, hitting the crossbar.

Matadors forward David Diaz, 58, tries to dispossess University of Texas Rio Grande Valley midfielder Yusuf Cueceoglu, 10, at the Performance Soccer Field in Northridge, Calif., on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022. (Renee Rothe)

Later on, a foul on midfielder Alex Lemus gave the Vaqueros a free kick with 37 minutes left near CSUN territory. The ball was hit into the penalty box, where midfielder Yusuf Cueceoglu had a good look at the goal, but bounced the ball into Wenzel’s hands.

With 30 minutes left, a UTRGV foul gave CSUN a free kick just outside the penalty area. Defender Bryan Bustamante took the shot, which the Vaqueros goalie hit away toward midfielder Marley Edwards near the penalty box. As the ball soared in the air, it deflected off two defenders into Rhead’s possession. He touched the ball, hitting it low at Gonzalez, who made the save.

Ten minutes later, the Vaqueros had a corner ricochet off two Matadors defenders who sprinted in the opposite direction. The Matadors found themselves on a counterattack as forward Enrique Pineda had one player to beat, but the defender knocked the ball out of bounds.

The last opportunity for the Vaqueros to score came in the 78th minute when Singh dribbled down the middle of the field, forcing a shot but missing wide left.

In the last five minutes, the Matadors applied pressure and found three opportunities to score the game-winning goal, but anticlimactically, all three shots went wide.

Wenzel had four saves, keeping UTRGV off the scoreboard so the Matadors could secure a point. He attributed the performance to his preparation.

“Looking at film has helped us,” Wenzel said. “Knowing what the other team is going to do helps us on game day. Going into game day ready from the start is nothing new.”

The Matadors will start conference play on Wednesday as they look to continue their point streak against UC Riverside.

“The Big West is the toughest division,” Davila said. “We’re excited to get league play started and every game is going to be a grind.”