Back in first place in with a bang.
That is where the CSUN men’s soccer team found itself; standing alone at the top of the Big West Conference after making a huge statement Oct. 11, defeating the 21st ranked UC Irvine Anteaters 4-1 at Anteater stadium.
“It’s a good way to end the first half of the season,” head coach Terry Davila said. “We didn’t think we were going to be here, we’re happy to be here right now, we just got to finish it off.”
The Matadors got goals from freshman forward Sunghyun Kim, junior midfielder Fergie Agwu, junior defender Sean Franklin and freshman defender Ben Cox. Cox and Kim also assisted goals. Irvine’s lone goal was scored by Anthony Hamilton off a rebound.
“We talked about how we need to come in and play well since we’re on the road,” Franklin said. “I think we were really prepared for the game.”
The Matadors struck seven minutes into the game. Kim received a pass from freshman midfielder Adrian Lopez at the left side of midfield and immediately charged in toward the goal. Kim made it near the box and fired a bullet past the diving goalkeeper Kenny Schoeni and into the net, giving CSUN the early lead.
The Matadors were just getting started. Two minutes later, CSUN again drove down the field; sophomore midfielder Devin Deldo crossed the ball to the left to Cox. Cox got the shot off, but was denied by Schoeni. The ball, though, went to Agwu, who fired a point-blank shot into the net and just like that, CSUN was up 2-0.
Even with a two-goal lead, the Matadors refused to let up on the Anteaters. Freshman forward Moy Gomez actually got the ball into the net a third time, but the goal was waived off due to an offside call. Moments later, Sean Franklin won a loose ball and charged in on the Anteater goal. Franklin took the ball to the top of the box and volleyed a shot towards the goal, but the ball went over by just an eyelash.
CSUN continued to pressure the Irvine defense. Senior forward Ryan Rossi led another Matador charge and fired a lead pass to Gomez. Gomez got to the ball with plenty of room to operate and charged into the box, but his shot attempt veered off to the left. Later on another break, Agwu found Kim near the top of the Irvine box, but Kim’s shot went over the goal.
Irvine’s best look came toward the end of the first half, as Matt Murphy found Anthony Hamilton inside the Matador box, but his attempt was smothered by freshman goalkeeper Kevin Guppy. Guppy also stopped a shot attempt by Murphy.
“We dominated the first half, we should’ve been up three or four-nothing,” Davila said. “We had real quality looks, sometimes you look at a game and there’s a lot of shots, But we had really good looks that we should’ve put away.”
CSUN needed to be very careful in the second half. A week earlier, the Anteaters came back from a two-goal deficit to tie UC Davis 2-2 on the road, and sure enough, Irvine went on the attack, getting the ball into the net in the 60th minute. Matt Murphy sent a free kick towards the Matador box. The ball went off Guppy, but went to Hamilton, who was standing at the left of the goal. Hamilton tapped the ball past Guppy at the right for an Anteater goal, cutting CSUN’s lead in half.
CSUN, though, wasn’t fazed, and got a much-needed insurance goal in the 71st minute. Franklin took a pass from Kim deep inside Irvine territory and raced toward the right goal area. Franklin then fired the ball into the net near the top-left crossbar for his first collegiate goal and, more importantly, a 3-1 Matador lead.
“I finally got it and I’m so excited,” Franklin said of his goal.
CSUN further put the game out of reach in the 84th minute. Senior midfielder Taylor Canel sent a corner kick from the right side of the field into the box toward Cox, who won the ball and guided the ball into the net.
“It (the ball) was going towards the goalie, so I tried to rush the goalie and dive in front of him, and it came,” Cox said. “It was there and I just hit it in.”
CSUN’s defense was dominant in the first half, limiting the Anteaters’ vaunted frontline to only three shots in the first half. CSUN also contained Irvine’s top two scoring threats, Hamilton and Brad Evans. Evans was limited to only one shot the entire night while Hamilton had two attempts at the goal.
“They were studly,” Davila said of his team’s defensive effort. “They (Irvine) probably had the two best forwards in the league on paper and two seniors (in) Brad Evans and Anthony Hamilton, they’re a handful. They play well together and our boys were ready for it.”
With the win, the Matadors now have 11 points and an overall record of 5-3-4, 3-0-2 in the conference. Irvine fell to 8-3-2, 3-2-0 in the Big West and also dropped into a tie for second place with UC Santa Barbara, who lost to UC Riverside 1-0 earlier that day. Both teams have nine points.
Ironically, the Matadors traveled to Riverside on Oct. 14, looking to avoid the same fate that befuddled Santa Barbara against the Highlanders.
CSUN will host the Cal Poly Mustangs on Oct. 18 at Matador Soccer Field.