Matadors’ run ends at Final Four


Efrain Ballon

CSUN midfielder Kanata Furutani, center, shows emotion after the Matadors loss to UC Irvine on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022, at the Performance Soccer Field in Northridge, Calif.

Justin Parrott, Reporter

The Matadors played on their heels for the majority of the semifinals match against UC Riverside. Their goal to tie the game at one apiece in the 40th minute was not enough to swing momentum in their favor, and they were quickly eliminated after conceding three more.

CSUN men’s soccer (9-6-4, 5-3-1 Big West Conference) dropped a tough battle to UC Riverside (7-7-4, 5-2-2 Big West Conference) in the semifinals of the Big West Men’s Soccer Championship, losing 4-1 after beating UC Davis in the quarterfinals.

In the regular season, the Matadors beat UC Riverside 1-0, with forward Jamar Ricketts scoring the only goal. CSUN took control through most of the match back on Sept. 28. But the second time around, UC Riverside pressured the Matadors.

From the jump, the Highlanders started to rally, giving themselves opportunities to score early. The Matadors continued to fight, but the UC Riverside offense was clicking on all cylinders, putting CSUN on its heels.

The Highlanders took control from the start, mounting an attack four minutes into the first half. Defender Adrian Meade-Tatum possessed the ball on the Highlanders’ side of the field, sending a long pass toward the penalty box. Forward Noah Lopez tracked it down just outside the penalty area, chipping the ball over goalie Cooper Wenzel to make the score 1-0.

“He beat our defender one-on-one and knocked him off the ball,” CSUN coach Terry Davila said. “You got to tip your cap to him, he made a great shot.”

Despite the early momentum for UC Riverside, CSUN sparked their own attack as they looked for the equalizer.

Defender Dylan Gonzalez dribbled the ball toward the right side of the field in the 40th minute. He centered the ball into the penalty box, where it deflected off a Highlander defender to forward Enrique Pineda, who waited by the corner of the goal. Pineda fired the ball into the net, evening the score.

Two minutes later, UC Riverside counterattacked, reclaiming all the momentum heading into the half. Forward Armando Ibarra possessed the ball off a deflection. He blasted the ball past Wenzel, giving the Highlanders a one-goal lead.

“We thought we had the momentum, and Riverside got it back,” Davila said. “Great teams create their own luck, and they got their shot off.”

In the second half, the Matadors continued to stay on defense against the Highlanders.

Riverside midfielder Leopoldo Hernandez possessed the ball in the 78th minute, dribbling up the right side of the field. Making two players miss, Hernandez passed to the top of the penalty box to defender Brendan Clark. Right in stride, Clark curved the ball past Wenzel into the low left side of the net, extending the Highlanders’ lead to two goals.

A minute later, a red card on midfielder AJ Johnson put the Matadors down a man. Going for the header, Johnson came into contact with Clark, who fell to the ground. Johnson then jumped on the defender’s back and was kicked out of the game. Davila says the red card was tough for his team.

“It was just the emotional moment of it, and he needed to make a better decision,” Davila said. “These are the moments when you need your players on the field.”

Making use of the player advantage, UCR midfielder Josue Varela possessed the ball in the middle of the field. Taking one dribble, Varela passed to Ibarra just outside the penalty area. Ibarra blasted the ball into the left side of the goal, growing the UC Riverside lead to 4-1.

Despite the tough loss, the Matadors will have a lot of talented players with tons of experience returning next season, including freshman David Diaz and sophomores Ricketts and Levin Gerhardt. Seniors Bryan Bustamante and Jack Rhead also have a year of eligibility left. Making the semifinals after a rough past two years, Davila believes the future is bright for his team.

“The last season and the COVID year, it was tough for a lot of teams in the Big West. Not being able to recruit was hard,” Davila said. “Now we have the chance to recruit again and improve our roster. We lost one senior starter this year, and this talent is coming back. Our team is young, reliable and will be ready to go for next year.”