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UCI Men’s Soccer Advances to Big West Final with 2-1 Thriller Win over UCSB

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Number two seed UC Irvine men’s soccer advanced to the Big West Conference finals after defeating number three seed rivals UC Santa Barbara Gauchos in a thrilling 2-1 victory at Anteater stadium on Nov. 4. 

Entering the semifinal game, the Anteaters had yet to defeat the Gauchos in the Big West Conference, having been defeated in the semifinals two years in a row. With determination on their minds, the ‘Eaters came into the playoff game ready to strike and break the unforgiving streak, brewing an apparent rivalry between the two teams as the night settled and the pitch began.

Coming into the match, the Gauchos were second in goals scored throughout the Big West standings with an astonishing record of 20. The Anteaters, in contrast, were eighth in the league of 10, with 18 goals behind their backs coming into the match.

As the match began, the determination to advance to the finals was apparent with both teams going back and forth holding sole possession of the ball. This led to an aggressive playing style held by both teams, with neither backing down or showing any sign of slowing down in the first couple of minutes into the match. 

Despite this, the Anteaters attempted multiple goals through corner kicks early on, with the Gauchos repaying the attempts with their own onslaught of attacks through the ‘Eater’s defense, resulting in a close call 14 minutes in — where UCI junior goalie Luke Pruter earned a narrow save. 

This aggressive style continued throughout the rest of the first half, with UCI and UCSB alternating in goal attempts and bodily collisions. As the match continued, anxious fans waited for one team to lose their edge as the players continued their passionate onslaught against one another. Pruter again received another save to his record at the 41:18 mark after another close call with UCSB’s offense. 

With tensions rising and anticipation growing, the first half came to a close with a 0-0 score, with both teams feeling the pressure to advance, and the new rivalry continuing to blossom. 

Once the game resumed, it wasn’t long for the long-awaited goal to come. The Gauchos struck first blood 55 minutes into the match, with senior midfielder Nemo Philipp making a stellar and shocking corner shot 30 yards right of the goal post. It was by this point that the ‘Eaters began to feel the pressure to not let history repeat itself. The team’s offense grew stronger and stronger as the minutes passed, with their eagerness to succeed matching that energy. 

This culminated in redshirt senior defender Eddy Berumen scoring the first goal for UCI, a goal which took two previous shots to complete and finally resulted in a left corner post shot, finally tying the already exhilarating game. 

When asked about the vital goal, Berumen recalled, “it was a great team win, we prevailed and pushed forward, and we kept fighting, and we resulted with a big win in a big game.” It’s apparent that the Anteaters don’t see individual goals as an individual trademark, but rather a team positive that helps the others grow — a mindset which became visible as the energy to score once more grew as time passed. 

That much needed tiebreaker came almost 10 minutes later from UCI junior midfielder Samuel Atiye scoring a hat trick of a goal with a tap-in shot from the left wing, with assists from sophomore forward Agaton Pourshahidi and junior midfielder Noah Clarkson.

Postgame, Atiye explained that “after any score, there’s always a rush, generally in soccer, when you score, especially when it’s in the moment, it gives a little push. I think we used the push at the right moment at the right time. It was me who scored the goal, but it could have been anyone.” This push seemed to continue and guide the team to a dominant last half in which the Anteaters held off the ongoing pressure from UCSB.

The Gauchos’ efforts did not pass the strong defensive hold from the Anteaters, resulting in the exhausting game ending in a 2-1 win for the Anteaters, ending their two-year losing streak, while also punching their ticket to the Big West finals where they will face UC Davis at home on Saturday, Nov. 11. 

Benjamin Flores is a Sports Intern for the fall 2023 quarter. He can be reached at floresbt@uci.edu