At last count going into Saturday night’s season finale, there were about seven different tie-breaker scenarios that would determine which school would clinch the fourth and final spot in the Big West Conference’s men’s soccer tournament.
In the end, there was no need for any hypothetical scenarios.
Cal State Northridge (10-7-2, 5-4-1 BW) bypassed all the variations and emphatically claimed its fourth-place finish with a 3-0 bombardment of No. 20 UC Irvine at Anteater Stadium.
The dominant victory will now match CSUN, the fourth-seeded team, at regular season conference champion and No. 3-ranked UC Santa Barbara (14-3-2, 8-1-1) Wednesday.
From the start of the season, CSUN Coach Terry Davila said his team’s number one goal was to reach the postseason. And after navigating the Matador ship for the 11th season, he steered his senior-laden team through smooth and rough waters: from the team’s early peek as No. 24 in the nation and five-game winning streak, to the their near elimination from playoff contention two weeks ago.
“[The season] is a journey,” Davila said after the game. “You never know what your destiny is going to be. Some teams go left or right. We just came through and persevered and came out swinging.”
Literally, both sides played the game as though they were swinging, as nearly 40 fouls were called in the match, including five cards shown.
The Matadors were in the driver’s seat coming into the match with 13 points, and needed at least a tie to clinch. Both UC Davis and Cal State Fullerton were still in contention for the final spot, but they needed help outside of their own matches to advance.
After Saturday’s first-half explosion, CSUN extended its winning streak to three games and recorded its seventh shutout of the season against an Irvine team that with a win, would have secured the No. 2 seed in next week’s tournament, and hosted at least its first match.
Instead, the Anteaters (13-6, 6-4) will come in as the third seed and will travel to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (8-9-2, 6-3-1), which finished second in Big West play.
“The game was decided in the first 20 minutes,” Davila said. “We now have an opportunity to play Santa Barbara, the best program in the West. They set the standard, and there is no other place I would want to go play.”
The Matadors had scored a first-half goal in just two games all year, but knocked in three against Irvine in the first 20 minutes of the match, including fifth-year senior Devin Deldo’s first of two goals in the second minute of play.
His second of the game – and of the season – came in the 19th minute off an assist from senior Dylan Riley.
The season has at times been challenging for Deldo, who had seen his minutes reduced because of nagging injuries. On Saturday, however, the forward’s performance helped extend the Matadors’ season, and gave them a chance to possibly be invited to the NCAA’s big tournament.
Fellow senior Sunghyun Kim knocked in his fourth goal of the season in the 10th minute and recorded his team-leading seventh assist.
Despite only taking six shots the entire game and no corner kicks, CSUN matched its largest margin of victory, which came in its 4-1 win against last place UC Riverside. The shutout also gave freshman goalie Michael Abalos the fifth of his career
CSUN and UCSB split the season series, with each team winning at home. Should the Matadors knock off the Gauchos once more, they would be one win away from being crowned Big West Tournament champs, and be guaranteed an invitation to college soccer’s big dance.
Last season CSUN was eliminated on the final game by Irvine at Matador Field. Saturday, the Matadors exercised a bit of revenge and a lot of euphoria.