CSUN men’s soccer drops pivotal game to Irvine

Matadors defender Dylan Gonzalez, 3, tries to head the ball in the game against UC Irvine on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022, at the Performance Soccer Field in Northridge, Calif.

Justin Parrott, Reporter

The Matadors dropped a tough battle to UC Irvine Saturday night, losing 2-1 after entering the night on a two-game road winning streak.

Looking to secure their eighth win of the season, CSUN men’s soccer (7-5-4, 4-3-1 Big West Conference) missed several opportunities to score against UC Irvine (4-11-1, 4-3-0 Big West Conference). The Matadors attacked early, giving themselves five looks at the goal in the first half. Scoring one goal to the Anteaters’ two, CSUN continued to generate opportunities in the second half, but was unable to capitalize and go for the win.

Both the Anteaters and the Matadors came out on the attack, alternating chances to score through the first 15 minutes.

A CSUN turnover less than a minute in gave UC Irvine a chance to draw first blood. Forward Robert Mejia possessed the ball in the penalty box. Taking one dribble, Mejia struck the ball but missed right of the goal. Four minutes later, defender Eddy Berumen received the ball on the left side of the field. He dribbled to the middle, nearing the penalty box. Berumen blasted a shot, hitting goalie Cooper Wenzel right in the hands.

The Matadors responded, creating their own attack.

Forward Jamar Ricketts possessed the ball in the eighth minute, sprinting down the right side of the field. Dribbling toward the penalty box, he drove the ball right at goalie Cody Aung’s hands. Six minutes later, Ricketts continued to take control. Making a defender miss as he dribbled up the right side of the field, he fired the ball, but Aung again made the save, deflecting the ball out of bounds.

Matadors defender Dylan Gonzalez, 3, is shown a red card for a hard tackle against Anteaters midfielder Francesco Montanile, left, on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022, at the Performance Soccer Field in Northridge, Calif. (Efrain Ballon)

UC Irvine recovered and mounted an attack a minute later, when Mejia made a pass to the middle of the field. Forward Diego Otoya attained the ball, blasting a shot off Wenzel’s hands. The ball landed in front of Mejia, who fired it into the goal to start the scoring.

The Anteaters continued to pressure, putting the Matadors on their heels.

Defender Ricardo Ibarra dribbled up the left side and passed the ball into the penalty box. In stride, Mejia controlled the ball but shot right of the goal with 28 minutes left. Two minutes later, forward Juan Barragan-Manzo possessed the ball, booming a shot that CSUN defenders managed to block.

The Matadors continued to fight, when Ricketts dribbled up the left side, making a defender miss. He banged a shot toward the goal, and Aung deflected the ball to forward Jack Rhead in front of the net. Rhead fired, and Aung caught the ball to keep the Matadors scoreless.

This gave the Anteaters the momentum they needed to double their lead. Rhead confiscated the ball in his own penalty box with 16 minutes left. Trying to pass to his teammate across the penalty area, Rhead turned the ball over, giving Mejia a shot at the goal. Mejia capitalized, making the score 2-0 Anteaters.

Near the end of the first half, the Matadors capitalized on a chance to shorten the UC Irvine lead. Midfielder Hector Villanueva controlled the ball, taking it up the left side. He passed the ball to forward David Diaz, who blasted it into the net from just outside the penalty box, cutting the lead in half.

“That was a great goal,” CSUN head coach Terry Davila said. “He got beyond him, tucked it into the corner and put it in the goal.”

UC Irvine made one last offensive surge with nine minutes left in the half when midfielder Ashish Chattha possessed the ball. Chattha passed to forward Agaton Pourshahidi near the penalty box, who powered a shot that hit the crossbar.

Anteaters goalkeeper Cody Aung grabs the ball out of the air to end the Matadors’ scoring opportunity in their game against UC Irvine on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022, at the Performance Soccer Field in Northridge, Calif. (Efrain Ballon)

The Anteaters outshot the Matadors 10-6, but each team had five shots on goals.

In the second half CSUN started hot, pressuring the UC Irvine defense.

About a minute in, midfielder Oscar Cardenas possessed the ball after a deflection off an Anteaters defender. In the penalty box, Cardenas blazed a shot at the goal but missed high.

UC Irvine counterattacked when Barragan-Manzo possessed the ball three minutes in. Dribbling up the left side of the field, he boomed a shot right into Wenzel’s hands. One minute later, a CSUN foul gave Barragan-Manzo a penalty kick. He blasted the ball left and Wenzel read the shot, deflecting it toward midfielder Marley Edwards who was forced to boot the ball out of bounds.

The Anteaters continued to rally when Mejia possessed a long pass, giving him a one-on-one opportunity to score with 29 minutes left. He nailed a shot but a one-handed grab by Wenzel stopped the scoring opportunity.

CSUN continued to find opportunities for the equalizer, securing a corner kick with 27 minutes left. The ball flew through the air to midfielder Kanata Furutani, who controlled it in the penalty box. Taking a dribble to his left, he blasted the ball, but it deflected off a UC Irvine defender out of bounds. Three minutes later, Rhead possessed the ball dribbling in the penalty box. Moving to his left he blasted a shot, which was saved by Aung.

The Matadors’ best opportunity came with 23 minutes left when defender Michael Arrington possessed the ball, passing it to Rhead on the right side of the field. Making a defender miss, Rhead shot the ball off the left post out of bounds.

CSUN midfielder Kanata Furutani, center, shows frustration after the Matadors lost to UC Irvine on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022, at the Performance Soccer Field in Northridge, Calif. (Efrain Ballon)

“We tried to produce opportunities. We had runners in the box. We did everything we could to tie the game up,” Davila said. “It just didn’t fall today.”

Arrington gave CSUN one last chance to score the tying goal with six minutes left. He passed the ball to defender Dylan Gonzalez in the middle of the field. Gonzalez made a move, crushing the ball high, but Aung hit the ball above the goal.

One minute later, UC Irvine possessed the ball. Gonzalez blatantly tripped an Anteater as he tried to steal the ball, prompting the referee to give him a red card. After he was kicked out of the game, the Matadors played a man down for the final four minutes, effectively ending their chances of coming back.

Third in the Big West Conference with one game left in the regular season, the Matadors are looking to clinch a playoff spot next Saturday night at CSU Fullerton. The Matadors sit on 13 points while four teams behind them have 12, racing to either finish top two and earn a bye, or claim a top-six spot to make the playoffs.