Sunday’s home-opener for the Cal State Northridge men’s soccer team (1-1-0) had little room for ball finesse or picturesque passing. The match at Matador field was a ball-possession battle from the opening whistle.
With the Matadors leading a three-on-two attack, senior midfielder Sunghyun Kim’s rebound shot-on-goal was punched in by forward Moy Gomez at the 47th minute of play to give CSUN a 1-0 victory over Loyola Marymount University.
The match featured rib-cracking collisions and heated slides on the ball. But in the end it was the Lions who were shutout by a physical Matador defense and effective goalkeeping by redshirt-sophomore Brandon Ibarra. The win puts Coach Terry Davila’s record in home-openers at 8-3-0.
“We can’t get too excited yet,” Davila said about the victory. “We’ve got so much more to go and so much can happen.”
The last time these two teams matched up was in the 2004 NCAA tournament where the Lions eliminated the Matadors. On Sunday CSUN out-shot the visitors 21-11 and took eight corner kicks compared to LMU’s five.
At the 55th minute mark, the Matadors had the chance to go up by two on a Kim pass to senior Cameron Sims, but the tap-in from point-blank range was wide left.
The Matadors were looking to bounce back from getting shutout in their season-opener at the University of San Diego and needed a strong performance from Ibarra to hold the shutout in tact.
“We knew that [a] win would come,” Ibarra said. “At San Diego I thought that we dominated, so we felt like we should have come out on top of that game. It feels good to come out on top of this one.”
It is his third year in the program, and he recognizes he has big shoes to fill, with two-time Big West Conference Goalkeeper of the Year Kevin Guppy’s graduation.
“[Guppy] kind of mentored me and shaped me into the goalie I am today,” he said. “Watching him do what he does best, hopefully I’ll carry on what he brought to the program.”
Facing a 1-0 deficit, the Lions looked to turn up the pressure and find an equalizing goal, but the Matador defense – led by defender Joe Franco and midfielders Dylan Riley and Rafael Garcia – pushed back.
And pushing there was.
The head referee struggled at times to keep the game clean, as several take downs and elbows were dished out on both sides.
The Matadors’ defense was key in shutting down Lions’ forward Rafael Baca, a First Team All-West Coast Conference member. The Hermann Trophy candidate (given to the nation’s top player) was given virtually no space to maneuver when he touched the ball, and was shadowed when he did not.
“The game was close because we missed on some opportunities,” Davila said. “But LMU is a resilient team.”
CSUN now goes into The Matador Challenge tournament hosted at Matador Field starting Friday against Fairleigh Dickinson University. Also participating in the tournament are Cal State Fullerton and Milwaukee University, respectively.