CSUN men’s soccer advances to Big West semifinals

CSUN men’s soccer celebrates a goal by redshirt sophomore Jamar Ricketts during the 2022 Big West Men’s Soccer Championship quarterfinals against UC Davis on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, in Northridge, Calif.

Justin Parrott, Reporter

Huddling up in a circle chanting “yes, yes, yes,” CSUN men’s soccer (9-5-4, 5-3-1 Big West Conference) was all smiles after beating UC Davis (5-9-4, 4-3-2 Big West Conference) 3-2 in the quarterfinals of the Big West Men’s Soccer Championship on Wednesday night. The win moved them on to the semifinals where they will take on UC Riverside.

With a packed house at the Performance Soccer Field, both teams played tough in the early minutes of the game, showing a lot of energy. The game tilted slowly in favor of the Aggies as they started to find their rhythm on offense.

A corner kick gave UC Davis prime position to draw first blood with 38 minutes left in the first half. The ball skyed through the air. Midfielder Jason Hsu jumped, heading the ball low right for what looked like the opening goal, but a diving save by goalie Cooper Wenzel stopped the attack.

CSUN men’s soccer junior Michael Arrington reacts to the ball during the 2022 Big West Men’s Soccer Championship quarterfinals against UC Davis on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, in Northridge, Calif. (Kaitlyn Lavo)

Almost two minutes later, Aggies defender Max Glasser possessed the ball in the middle of the field, passing to forward Ethan Hoard. Hoard took a shot and watched the ball deflect back to him off a CSUN defender. He took advantage of his second chance, blasting the ball off Wenzel’s hands into the net to make the score 1-0.

“We have to deny weak penetration against UC Davis and they are very good on the wings,” CSUN head coach Terry Davila said. “They have beaten us the last couple times with that and we made it a point of emphasis.”

Despite the momentum being on the side of UC Davis, the Matadors quickly sparked an attack as they looked for the equalizer.

Forward Jamar Ricketts possessed the ball, sprinting up the middle of the field with five minutes left in the first half. Looking to his right, Ricketts spotted forward Edson Palos and gave him a leading pass. Palos blasted the ball into the goal with his left foot, making the score even. Momentum started to shift in CSUN’s favor going into halftime.

“When I possessed the ball, I was trying to get it down to my feet,” Palos said. “When you have a player like Jamar on your team, it’s easy to get the ball and I was fortunate to put it in.”

Prior to this game, Palos had played in just five games, coming off the bench in each of them. Through those five games, he took only one shot and had zero assists and zero goals. Davila had a lot of faith in his decision to play the redshirt sophomore.

CSUN men’s soccer senior Dylan Gonzalez looks back at the tied scoreboard during the first half of the 2022 Big West Men’s Soccer Championship quarterfinals against UC Davis on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, in Northridge, Calif. (Kaitlyn Lavo)

“He’s been playing really well at practice and he has some good players in front of him,” Davila said. “He’s always been resilient with a smile on his face and working hard. We are very proud of him and he’s the true definition of our team.”

In the second half, CSUN attacked UC Davis early and often.

Defender Marvin Arias possessed the ball, dribbling up the field six minutes in. Arias passed the ball down the right side of the field to defender Dylan Gonzalez. Making a defender miss, Gonzalez passed the ball into the penalty area where forward Jack Rhead found it, firing the ball into the net for the go-ahead goal.

“It was a great bit of work by Dylan on the right side and I was trying to help him by getting in the middle,” Rhead said. “He put in a great pass and I was there at the end. Very proud of the boys and a great delivery by Dylan.”

Not even two minutes later, Ricketts stole the ball at midfield, pushing the pace. Rhead ran with him down the side of the field, attracting many defenders who looked to prevent him from scoring again. Seeing the defense focus on his teammate, Ricketts sprinted near the penalty box and blasted the ball into the upper right corner, giving the Matadors a two-goal lead.

“It was a great transition from defense to offense and Jack did a great job of drawing all the defenders with him,” Ricketts said. “It gave me an opportunity and I took it. I’m very grateful that I made the play.”

CSUN men’s soccer redshirt sophomore Jamar Ricketts backflips in celebration after scoring a goal during the 2022 Big West Men’s Soccer Championship quarterfinals against UC Davis on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, in Northridge, Calif. (Kaitlyn Lavo)

UC Davis refused to quit, generating offense of their own.

A foul on Ricketts gave the Aggies a free kick inside Matadors’ territory with less than four minutes left. The ball flamed into the penalty box, deflecting off a CSUN defender. UC Davis forward Zachary Batchelder possessed the ball just inside the box. Taking one step to his right, Batchelder blazed the ball low, cutting the CSUN lead to 3-2.

In the final minute, the Aggies were desperate to find a way to score the tying goal. Defender Sean Bilter possessed the ball on the right side of the field. Making a move, Bilter fired a shot right of the goal with the clock winding down.

With the win against UC Davis, the Matadors will play top-seeded UC Riverside Saturday night for a chance to make the championship finals. CSUN beat the Highlanders 1-0 at home in their regular season match, but Davila knows they have to bring everything they’ve got to beat them again in the semifinals.

“Riverside won the league and right now they are the top dog,” Davila said. “We have to go get them at their place, and we are excited about the opportunity.”