Number two seed UC Irvine Men’s Soccer defeated number four seed UC Davis in a penalty kick shootout to capture their fifth Big West Conference title at Anteater Stadium on Nov. 11 — punching their ticket into the NCAA division tournament.
Coming into the match, the Anteaters and UC Davis Aggies had met each other 32 times throughout both schools’ histories — with Davis leading 14-11-6. The last time the teams met was on Oct. 7, where UC Davis left with a 1-0 win. To make it to the finals, UC Davis had to get past both Cal Poly and Cal State Fullerton, while the Anteaters had a clearer path with a 2-1 defeat over UC Santa Barbara.
With a championship on the line, both teams showed their opposite playstyles from the beginning of the match. UC Davis had a more aggressive and direct approach, translating to more goal attempts and more player-on-player confrontations. UC Irvine took a more thorough and collected approach, with more teammate passes and less player-on-player contact.
With such opposite styles and mentalities, both teams held the other off when it came to possession of the ball. However, as the match progressed, both teams showed no signs of slowing down or adopting a new style and the game continued with a 0-0 score.
Regarding the Anteaters’ specific style, redshirt senior midfielder Oscar Cervantes — who ended the game with MVP honors after a remarkable display of offense — stated: “We had each other’s back. We had this 1.5 rule, and it’s where you do half the job of your teammates, and that’s something we live by, and something we showed today.” That 1.5 rule guided the team into multiple goal attempts, many of which narrowly entered the goal post — before the first half completed with a 0-0 score still intact.
In the second half, UCI began with a more aggressive approach to the game, shifting into the role previously held by the Aggies, in an attempt to break the game’s stale score. This assertive style eventually returned to UC Davis, where they attempted to break the game’s score and cruise into a championship victory.
With the match progressing, the stressful nature of the match began to show its effects on players. Many of them started crashing into each other, in the hopes to inch their way into a goal for their team.
However, time did eventually run out and the match went into a five minute overtime. Both teams simply tried to score however they could. As time trickled down on the first half of overtime, both fans and players grew anxious over the possibility of winning the coveted championship — which ended unfortunately with no goal for either team.
The second half of overtime was no different than the first — with both teams aggressive in their playstyles but ultimately ending the same at 0-0, leading to an exciting but anxiety-inducing penalty shootout.
After 110 minutes of play, both teams readied up for the sudden death shootout, where any mistake could cost them a championship and end their season. The tide turned in favor of UC Davis quickly, as UCI fell 1-1 early on, with the Aggies making all their shots until their fourth attempt — thus tying up the two teams and building up even more stress for both teams and fans alike.
From then on, neither team seemed to miss — with both the Anteaters and Aggies trading shots back and forth, until shockingly making it to the ninth round of shooting — where junior goalkeeper Luke Pruter stepped up and blocked UC Davis junior defender Hayden Carlson’s shot attempt, finally ending the stressful game and winning UC Irvine their fifth Big West Conference Championship.
Post-game, UCI men’s soccer head coach Yossi Raz, looked back on the team’s success stating: “We showed everything it takes to win a final, and I’m very happy for the players in our locker room, for our university and for our athletic department.” As the team embraced and celebrated the win, so did the fans as Anteaters were able to enjoy another Big West championship — uniting both players and students on the exciting and stress-filled night.
With the championship held high and proud, the men’s soccer team looks to continue their winning streak as they enter the NCAA Men’s Soccer tournament — but until then, they can be known as the 2023 Big West Conference Soccer Champions.
Benjamin Flores is a Sports Intern for the fall 2023 quarter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.