The CSUN Matador men’s soccer team moved one step closer to clinching the Big West Conference title after shutting out the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos 1-0 at Matador Soccer Field on Wednesday afternoon.
Senior midfielder Daniel Paladini was the difference-maker early in the first half as he scored after rebounding two of his own shot attempts.
“I had three chances and I finished one,” said Paladini of his goal.
Goalkeeper Kevin Guppy kept the Gauchos out of the net, recording six saves, including four in the last five minutes, to preserve the shutout and extend CSUN’s unbeaten streak to ten games.
Northridge also welcomed Willie Sims back to the lineup. Sims missed the last six games, recovering from a knee sprain suffered in the Matadors’ last meeting with the Gauchos in Santa Barbara on Oct. 8. Sims entered the game in the 27th minute and played the rest of the half, then re-entered in the 58th minute and played 12 minutes.
“It felt good,” said Sims of regarding his knee. “It’s tough to come back and try to get your confidence back. After I took my shot, I felt a bit of pain, but then it went away.”
“Willie is as tough as they come,” said head coach Terry Davila. “He showed he wanted to do it for the team.”
Santa Barbara’s Bryan Byrne got off two quick shot attempts to start the match, but both shots went wide.
Paladini’s goal came in the 13th minute after a bizarre scenario. Paladini received a pass from senior Zach Feldman, then took the ball toward the box and fired a shot past goalkeeper Kyle Reynish. But Gaucho Jeff Murphy was right where he needed to be, deflecting the ball out of harm’s way.
Paladini came up with the rebound and fired another shot, only to be denied once again by Murphy before getting a third chance, which ended up being the charmer, firing the ball into the right upper corner of the goal, giving CSUN the 1-0 lead. Paladini recorded four shots on goal.
“I received it and I thought I had it on the first one,” Paladini said. But it hit the far post, hit somebody, (then) came back to me. (Andy) Iro slid and I took it (another) way and it hit somebody’s chest, bounced back to me (again) and I just kicked it to the corner, finally.”
Santa Barbara tried desperately to get back in the game toward the end of the half. Kevin Pontius was the first Gaucho to get off a shot against Guppy in the 40th minute, but the attempt was denied. Guppy’s next two saves, however, turned out to be the biggest of the game. Shortly after Pontius’ attempt, Gaucho Andrew Proctor received the ball at the right side of the box and charged in on the goal.
Guppy came out, slid toward Proctor and swatted his shot away to the left and the ball was cleared away. One minute later, Nick Perera tried to beat Guppy at the top corner of the net, but Guppy got his hands on it and deflected it out of bounds.
Santa Barbara failed to capitalize on the ensuing corner kick and Guppy made one more stop on a header by Byrne with 1:24 remaining in the half.
“I just tried to stay on my game and not fall asleep back there,” Guppy said. “They kept coming at us, but our defense stepped it up big time.”
The Matadors had a chance to extend its lead in the second half. Senior Alec de Mattos thought he had scored a goal shortly after the start of the second half, but CSUN was called offsides. Sophomore Matt Tracy had two good looks, but both shots sailed high above the net – the first in the 49th minute and the second in the 71st minute.
Matador Will Beard also had a good look at the goal just a minute after Tracy’s first attempt, but his shot from the right of the box was saved by Reynish.
Santa Barbara also had several looks at the goal, but Guppy proved once again to be the thorn in the side of the Gauchos. Ivan Becerra, Santa Barbara’s leading scorer, had a chance in the 63rd minute when he took the ball, turned and fired a shot that missed to the left. With five minutes to play in the game, Gaucho Eric Avila fired away from 30 yards out, only to be denied by Guppy.
“We got heart,” Davila said. “We didn’t play as beautiful as we wanted to, but we held on and we fought, we fought and we fought.”
“We’re not going to win every game by playing beautiful,” Davila said. “We got Willie (and) Alec de Mattos back in the lineup. It was nothing but a positive game. Hopefully it propels us to winning the Big West Conference.”
CSUN’s win over the Gauchos also marked the final regular season game at Matador Soccer Field in grand fashion for seniors Paladini, Feldman, de Mattos, Beard, Gianni Facio and Sims.
CSUN ends the regular season on a three-game road trip against CSU Fullerton, UC Irvine and future Big West member UC Davis.
Ivan Yeo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.