CSUN men’s soccer victorious in Big West opener

CSUN player Marley Edwards, 22, tries to outmaneuver UC Riverside player Leopoldo Hernandez at the Performance Soccer Field on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022, in Northridge, Calif.

Justin Parrott, Reporter

The Matadors defeated UC Riverside Wednesday night, kicking off the Big West Conference on a high note thanks to a counterattack goal by forward Jamar Ricketts.

Securing their fourth win of the season, CSUN’s men’s soccer (4-2-3, 1-0 Big West Conference) spent a lot of time defending against UC Riverside (1-6-2, 0-1 Big West Conference). The Highlanders applied a lot of pressure on the CSUN defense early in the game, but the Matadors played physically, overcoming the attack to win 1-0.

Both teams played fast out of the gate, setting the pace for the rest of the game.

The Highlanders took control early in the game, mounting an attack 54 seconds into the first half. Defender Brendan Clark took possession of the ball, dribbling it up the left side of the field. Splitting two CSUN defenders, Clark powered a shot, missing high above the goal. Two minutes later, a hand ball on CSUN midfielder Jack Rhead gave the Highlanders a free kick in CSUN territory. The ball flew into the air, deflecting out of bounds off two CSUN defenders.

CSUN player Jamar Ricketts, 11, steals the ball from UC Riverside player Carlos Osorio at the Performance Soccer Field on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022, in Northridge, Calif. (Taylor Arthur)

The Highlanders continued generating chances early, earning two more free kicks and two corners over the next 13 minutes. Blocks by CSUN defenders kept the ball away from the goal until a header by defender Adrian Meade-Tatum gave the Highlanders a chance to break through. A diving save by outstretched Matadors goalie Cooper Wenzel kept the game scoreless as the Matadors pushed the other way.

CSUN responded when Ricketts sparked the team with 26 minutes left in the first half. Forward Oscar Cardenas stole the ball at midfield, turning the corner and dribbling up the right side. Cardenas centered the ball into the penalty area, where Ricketts controlled it. The sophomore angled the ball, deflecting it off a Highlanders defender into the bottom right corner of the goal, giving CSUN a 1-0 lead.

“The game went back-and-forth and every game has moments where you need to perform,” said Ricketts. “Cardenas gave me a good ball, I had the opportunity to score and I thank my teammates for getting me into that position to score.”

CSUN player Dylan Gonzalez, left, keeps the ball away from UC Riverside player Leopoldo Hernandez at the Performance Soccer Field on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022, in Northridge, Calif. (Taylor Arthur)

The Highlanders continued to give themselves chances after the goal. With 17 minutes left in the first half, a foul on defender Michael Mullins gave Riverside a free kick. Midfielder Leopoldo Hernandez obtained the ball on a pass into the middle of the penalty box. Taking one dribble, he shot the ball low into Wenzel hands. Eight minutes later, a Highlander dribbled up the right side of the field, passing the ball into the penalty area where Clark looked to equalize. Shooting quickly, he elevated the ball over the crossbar.

The Highlanders kept attacking, but the Matadors defense continued to sustain the pressure, blocking shot after shot and watching the ball sail over the crossbar.

UC Riverside took nine shots in the first 45 minutes, but only three hit the target. CSUN’s only shot in the half was the difference between the teams at the break.

“Everything that we are doing is contested and we are not giving them clean looks,” said CSUN head coach Terry Davila. “We’re going to give up shots but they have to be contested and we did that tonight.”

The Highlanders continued pressing the CSUN defense in the second half. Clark continued where he left off, making plays on the field. A throw-in by the Highlanders gave Clark the ball and he dribbled up the right side, blasting a shot right of the goal.

UC Riverside players Christian Ceja Paniagua, 16, and Adrian Meade-Tatum, 22, anticipate the ball as CSUN player Bryan Bustamante, 4, leaps for a header at the Performance Soccer Field on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022, in Northridge, Calif. (Taylor Arthur)

With 37 minutes left, a foul on defender Freymar Omarsson gave CSUN a free kick inside Highlanders territory. The ball flew into the penalty area, and Rhead jumped in the air with traffic around him, heading the ball toward the goal. His shot bounced low right at the keeper.

Riverside recovered, mounting a counterattack with 30 minutes left and earning a free kick two minutes later. The Highlanders sent both shots over the goal as two more opportunities went down the drain.

CSUN regained momentum with about 20 minutes left, stealing the ball at midfield to create a counterattack that quickly ended with a Highlanders foul. Midfielder Marley Edwards fired a shot toward the goal, but the ball was blocked by the defenders and went out of bounds.

The Matadors kept the Highlanders on their heels, using spins and juke moves to throw the Highlanders off balance and forcing a Riverside turnover to create a chance to ice the game. Midfielder Alex Lemus dribbled down the left side and centered. The ball took deflections in the air until it came into the possession of Rhead, who headed the ball low into the hands of keeper Carlos Gonzalez.

In the final minutes of the game, Clark tried it all to even the score, creating three more opportunities for the Highlanders.

Leopoldo Hernandez, 7, of UC Riverside tries to keep up with Oscar Cardenas, 10, from CSUN at the Performance Soccer Field on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022, in Northridge, Calif. (Taylor Arthur)

Clark received a long pass and possessed the ball in the penalty box. He forced a shot through the traffic, right at the goalie. Minutes later, UC Riverside took the ball up the right side, and Clark again secured the ball in the middle of the field. Taking one dribble, he shot the ball, but it deflected out of bounds off CSUN defenders.

Clark had one last opportunity to even the score. The defender dribbled up the left side of the field, and in desperation, fired a shot toward the goal where Wenzel made another save.

CSUN held on to win the scrappy affair 1-0, overcoming the physicality in a game where the Highlanders and Matadors combined for 29 fouls.

The Matadors will travel to CSU Sacramento on Wednesday, Oct. 5 to take on the Hornets (6-3-2). Ricketts believes the team will be ready heading into next week.

“Today was a great steppingstone, getting three points,” Ricketts said. “Next week we are on the road, this week in practice we’re going to work hard. I believe we can match up with anybody.”