The Matador men’s soccer team returned to its winning ways by defeating the UC Riverside Highlanders 2-1 in Riverside on Sept. 28, and then the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Mustangs 3-1 at Northridge on Oct. 2.
The team improved its record to 6-2-1, with a 2-0 tally in Big West Conference play.
CSUN’s victory was paced by senior Daniel Paladini, who scored two goals, and junior Willie Sims, who scored his eighth goal of the season against the Mustangs, a game that was originally scheduled to be played on Oct. 1, but was moved to the next day as part of a doubleheader with the women’s team due to the poor air quality that resulted from the wildfires last week.
“We were ready,” Paladini said. “It was better (on Oct. 2). The weather was perfect and the team was focused.”
Paladini’s first goal came in the seventh minute when he received a pass from sophomore Sean Franklin and fired a shot from 25 yards out that beat Cal Poly goalkeeper Jeremy Coupe at the left post, giving CSUN an early 1-0 lead.
Northridge had several chances to extend the lead in the first half, but failed to capitalize on five corner kicks. Cal Poly then tied the game in minute 32 when Jason Hadley took a pass from Nikhil Erlebach and sent a ball from 12 yards out that sailed over CSUN goalkeeper Kevin Guppy into the net for the 1-1 equalizer before halftime.
In the second half, CSUN continued to put pressure on Cal Poly’s Coupe. A free kick attempt by Matt Tracy sailed over the net, and another shot attempt, this time by Franklin, hit the post and the rebound shot by Paladini inadvertently hit Michael Rossi and was soon cleared by the Cal Poly defense.
CSUN finally took control of the game when Devin Deldo hooked up with Sims on a give and go, with Sims finishing it off on a shot that beat Coupe at the left post. CSUN was back in front 2-1.
Paladini added an insurance goal in minute 73 when he capitalized off a Cal Poly turnover, scoring unassisted from 30 yards out.
CSUN outshot the Mustangs 21-12. Sims took five shot attempts, Paladini had four, Deldo had three and Franklin and Taylor Canel had two a piece.
“We put the ball in the net,” said head coach Terry Davila. “That was the difference between the two halves.”
Against UC Riverside on Sept. 28, Paladini scored the game winner in minute 70 when he received a pass from Chad Borak and fired a shot from 35 yards out past UCR goalkeeper Jordan King.
Senior Gianni Facio scored the first goal in minute 36 when he took a pass from Deldo and moved in at the middle of the goalkeeper’s box, then beat King at the left corner and scored. Riverside’s lone goal came from Kyle Ochoa, who tied the game two minutes after Facio’s goal.
Paladini was named to the College Soccer News National Team of the Week and awarded Big West Player of the Week honors.
CSUN now braces for a key matchup with defending Big West Conference champion and No. 19 UC Santa Barbara at Harder Stadium in Santa Barbara on Oct. 8.
“It’s going to be a hard week,” Davila said. “We’re going to enjoy this victory, but it’s going to be a long hard week.”
CSUN’s game against UC Santa Barbara will be televised on a tape-delay on the College Sports Television Network on Oct.10 at 7 p.m.
Ivan Yeo can be reached at email@example.com.