It was about this time last year that UC Irvine temporarily halted the CSUN men’s soccer team’s Big West title hopes with a 2-1 win at Anteater Stadium.
A year later, the roles were reversed. Heading into the regular season finale for both teams Saturday afternoon at Matador Soccer field, UC Irvine held a one-point lead over UC Santa Barbara in the Big West Conference race, while the Matadors needed a win to keep their playoff hopes alive.
But the Matadors, just like Irvine last year, were not about to let the Anteaters celebrate on their home field, and they returned the favor from last year with a 1-0 win on a day in which seniors Taylor Canel, Derek Hanks, Ryan Rossi and Ronny Shields were honored prior to the game for their contributions to the program.
“Our seniors came through today,” head coach Terry Davila said. “Taylor had a great game commanding our midfield and keeping us organized, Derek was phenomenal in the back line and Rossi scored the winning goal. What more can you ask from the seniors on senior day? My only disappointment was that Ronny didn’t get to play because of his injury.”
Rossi’s goal came in the 58th minute. Freshman forward Michael Clegg assisted on the goal and Hanks also played a role in the score that the Matadors fed off the entire afternoon.
“Derek played a ball over their back line and me and Clegg went for it and their defenders came, it bounced to me, deflected off another defender and I saw the keeper was out a little bit and I put it back post low,” Rossi said of his goal.
Irvine was the aggressor for most of the afternoon, as they tallied 13 shots the entire afternoon as opposed to CSUN’s eight shots. Sophomore goal keeper Kevin Guppy came up with four saves, two in each half. Guppy had to work extra hard for the second save, as Matt Murphy sent a shot off a Matador defender to the left and Guppy had to dive just to redirect the ball out of bounds. The Matadors’ best two chances came from Hanks and junior defender Sean Franklin, but both were denied by Irvine goalkeeper Kenny Schoeni.
Guppy made two more saves on shots by Anthony Hamilton and J.T. Terrazas in the second half and Irvine caught a bad break when Schoeni was red-carded and ejected toward the end of the game when he tried to stop freshman forward Sunghyun Kim one on one and ended up tackling him hard to the ground. Even more importantly, any red card results in an automatic one-game suspension, meaning if Irvine were to make the playoffs, Schoeni will not return until the second round, provided the Anteaters make it that far.
CSUN’s win over Irvine enabled Santa Barbara to leapfrog the Anteaters for the Big West Conference title. The Gauchos easily defeated UC Riverside 4-0, also on Saturday afternoon, to claim the conference title.
“We made it as difficult as possible for them,” Canel said. “We just made sure we came out and defended our home ground.”
CSUN finishes the 2006 season with a record of 8-6-5, 5-2-3 in the Big West Conference. CSUN finished with 18 points, good for third place in the conference. Though the Matadors started the season with high hopes and high expectations, only to struggle throughout most of the year, CSUN finished strong, winning its last three games to keep its playoff hopes alive.
“We had a lot of ups and downs,” Davila said. “When you go through a season like this, you grow, and we never folded, we won our last three straight and that says a lot about our character and I’m very proud.”
Though they still have a shot at an NCAA tournament berth, seniors like Hanks and Rossi took some time to reflect on their time at Northridge.
“Just playing with all these guys, man,” Hanks said. “I love them, they’re my best friends.”
“Everyone that I played with, starting from when I was a tiny little kid coming in here at 17 years old,” Rossi said. “Everyone, from Brandon Esparza, Peabo Woodson, Brian Phillips all the way up to Devin (Deldo), Lue (Smith), all the freshmen, just the experience, it’s really a family.”
Though Canel, who transferred from UCLA in 2005, only played two years as a Matador, he too will leave the program with nothing but good memories of his two-year stay at CSUN.
“I’ll remember the guys the most,” Canel said. “I’ll remember last year’s run to the sweet 16, and just the tough games. That’s why you play the sport, because of the tough games, and I’ve learned a lot here and I became a much better player playing here.”