The CSUN women’s soccer team played its home opener Sunday night under a new lighting system completed this summer.
It was the first night soccer game at CSUN in nearly a decade. CSUN President Jolene Koester welcomed a near-capacity crowd to the event, dubbed “Sunday Night Lights,” during a pre-match ceremony. Koester said students made the lights possible through the CSUN Campus Quality Fee.
The Matadors (0-2) responded to the buzz of the night, falling 2-1 to No. 5 Portland at Matador Field in a game that went down to the final whistle.
“Since there was so much hype, it being a home game and the first game under the lights, we were excited,” said senior midfielder Sonia Espitia. “We really picked it (the effort) up.”
The final 10 minutes of the match proved to be action packed as CSUN tried to score the tying goal. Playing with urgency, the Matadors attempted several crosses in front of the Portland goal.
With less than a minute to go, CSUN earned a corner kick. The Matadors flooded the Portland goal area, with goalie Cynthia Jacobo racing from her net to add to the attack.
A CSUN-headed shot bounced off the crossbar and another was tipped just over the goal by Portland goalie Erin Dees. Time ran out with the Matadors in possession in front of the goal.
Despite the loss, Matador head coach Keith West was pleased by the effort his team displayed. After dropping the first game of the season 2-0 at UC Santa Barbara on Friday, CSUN responded better in their home opener.
“It was a night and day difference (between the two games),” West said. “The girls brought it. They brought the energy and the effort. But they also brought quality.”
The game opened with both teams battling for possession. The Pilots controlled the pace of the game, passing the ball around midfield. CSUN seemed content to absorb the pressure, counterattacking with long passes upfield. Senior forward Farryn Townley earned several throw ins and free kicks in Portland territory.
Portland broke the stalemate in the 30th minute. Substitute Micaela Capelle settled a cross with her chest before slotting a low shot past Matador goalie Jacobo.
Despite the deficit, CSUN responded with their best run of play in the first half. Midfielder Melissa Fernandez blasted a powerful shot over the Pilots’ goal.
Just seconds before halftime, Portland struck on a quick counterattack. Capelle beat a CSUN defender to a long ball and streaked toward the goal, one-on-one against Jacobo. The freshman forward coolly put it past the CSUN goalie, scoring her second goal of the game.
In the second half, the tempo slowed as Portland controlled possession. Then, in a moment of brilliance mixed with luck, Espitia put CSUN on the scoreboard.
The midfielder dribbled past two Portland players before unleashing a speculative shot from outside the box. The ball ricocheted off a group of players in front of the Pilot goalie and into the side of the net.
“I saw the goal open so I tried taking a shot with my left,” Espitia said. “It hit off another Portland girl and went in.”
The goal revitalized the large crowd of 1,496 spectators, according to the official box score. With the crowd back in the game, the Matadors went all out for the tie.
With 11 minutes to go, Portland earned a penalty kick after a Pilots shot inadvertently hit a CSUN defender’s hand. Senior midfielder Keelin Winters attempted to put the game out of reach for Portland. However, Jacobo, Big West Freshman of the Year in 2009, was up to the task, diving to her left and saving the shot.
“All the pressure was on me, but I had faith,” said Jacobo, who finished with five saves. “I said, ‘I got this. We’re still going to be in this game.’”
The Matadors will next take the field Aug. 29 as they host Saint Joseph’s (PA) at 1 p.m.