M-Soccer: Matadors try to defend their first place at UC Irvine

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M-Soccer: Matadors try to defend their first place at UC Irvine

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Anthony Carpio

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CSUN midfielder Carlos Benavidez (21) has a team-high six assists this season. Andres Aguila / Daily Sundial

Currently riding a three-game winning streak, the Matadors are looking to stay on top of the Big West Conference as they face No. 7 UC Irvine at Anteater Stadium Saturday night.

CSUN (5-4-1, 2-0 Big West)is tied for first place with UC Irvine (10-2, 2-1) in conference with six points each. CSUN got wins against UC Davis and Cal State Fullerton last weekend.

CSUN head coach Terry Davila sees UCI as a big challenge for his team.

“UCI is a dynamic team,” Davila said. “They have about five players that can possibly score goals. It’s hard to shut them out.”

The Matadors have shut out their last three opponents. Midfielder Rafael Garcia says the coaching staff has stressed defense in order to succeed.

“The coaches have done a great job of putting in our minds that when we get shutouts, it usually comes with a (win),” Garcia said.

Davila added that his group needs to play organized and be cautious of the Anteaters.

UCI forward Christian Hernandez leads his team with five goals and four assists. He is also an accurate striker, with 15 shots on goal out of 35 shots.

The last meeting between the teams resulted in CSUN coming away with a 2-1 victory on Nov. 3, 2010 at Irvine. The Matadors also lead the series 18-14-4, but they’re 2-3 over the last five matches.

Winning their first two Big West matches, Davila thinks the preseason had a lot to do with their performance.

“People are maturing,” Davila said. “That’s why we have preseason games, to find out who you are. I think we’re starting to get an identity and feel comfortable with one another.”

After tallying three assists during CSUN’s win over Fullerton Saturday, Matador midfielder Carlos Benavides was named Big West Offensive Player of the Week on Monday.

“It feels really good,” Benavides said. “All the hard work has paid off for the team and I think it’s a byproduct of the team working hard.”

Benavides hopes to carry his offensive performance against the Titans into Saturday’s game.

“Hopefully I can carry that momentum into the (game against UCI) and produce maybe a couple more assists,” Benavides said. “Maybe even a goal, help the team get another (win) on the road because Irvine is going to be a tough team to beat.

“If I have a clear shot or clear way of getting to the goal, maybe creating myself an opportunity, then I’ll take (the shot). If not, if I see someone else that has a better chance of scoring, then I’ll give it to them.”

Garcia’s return to the starting lineup four games ago has given the Matadors multiple ways to execute their game plans.

“We have depth right now and we have the quality that when any player comes in, we’re at the point where we don’t really miss a beat,” Garcia said. “I’m really happy with the players that are coming off the bench, with their attitudes and doing whatever it takes to help the team.”

Garcia may be a key component to CSUN’s success, but Davila feels that it takes more than one person to make a difference.

“(Garcia) doesn’t have to have the ball to affect the game and not many players can do that,” Davila said. “To me, we have about 16 to 17 starters.”

With both teams having six points, Saturday’s match will determine who will be at top of the Big West.

“I just take it game by game, and Irvine’s the biggest game of the year,” Davila said. “It’s like cards. One card changes everything. One game changes everything.”