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UCI Men’s Soccer Ends Season With Devastating 4-2 Loss Against LMU in First Round of NCAA Tournament

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UCI Men’s Soccer ended their phenomenal season with a devastating 4-2 loss against the Loyola Marymount University Lions in the first round of the NCAA soccer tournament at Sullivan field, on Nov. 16, ending their season with a 9-6-4 record. 

Having won five straight games leading up to the NCAA tournament, including the Big West Conference on Nov. 11, the Anteaters were red hot and a favorite to win the match and face UCLA the following Sunday. UCI and LMU had faced each other earlier this season in a pre-season exhibition match, which proved to be a very physical and aggressive game for both teams.

With the match underway, the Eaters dominated in keeping sole possession of the ball, even showing a more aggressive approach with multiple goal attempts and fierce team assists. Early on, however, LMU put up a fight, defending themselves from the relentless attacks from UCI, thus finding goal opportunities for themselves in a fierce back-and-forth match. 

As the match progressed, both teams showed signs of their earlier pre-season exhibition match, with the game becoming physical with one another and resulting in multiple fouls and yellow cards on both sides of the match. One of these fouls led to the first goal of the game, with LMU graduate forward Ryan Kingsford scoring off a penalty kick. Although UCI junior goalkeeper, Luke Pruter, initially blocked the kick, Kingsford returned the ball on a rebound and scored for his team. This goal boosted the Lions’ confidence and playmaking, with a newfound resurgence leading them into multiple goal attempts until the end of the first half, leaving them with a 1-0 lead. 

Coming back in the second half of the match, LMU continued their aggressive playstyle against the Anteaters, resulting in yet another goal 58 minutes in, courtesy of a headshot by LMU senior midfielder Braden Fidleak, with an assist coming from freshman forward Alejandro Fuentsal. 

Down 2-0, the Eaters attempted to gain momentum against the energetic Lions, resulting in a quick goal from UCI redshirt senior midfielder, Mario Anaya. The goal proved to bring new life into the Anteaters, leading to increased possession for UCI, as they attempted with all their force to come back and tie the game. 

This drive eventually paid off, with UCI redshirt senior forward Rafael Espinoza scoring a spectacular top left corner goal off a penalty kick, tying the game 2-2 and igniting excitement among both fans and players. 

With the game reaching its last 20 minutes, both teams put on a powerhouse display in offense and determination, attempting multiple goal attempts each, and allowing bodies to crash and fall in the aftermath. With the physical contact came free kicks, and one of those free kicks became beneficial for LMU when junior forward Tyger Smalls scored a free kick at the 88-minute mark, taking the game to 3-2 and creating more stress for the Anteaters and fans alike. 

With 2 minutes left, UCI attempted a comeback with a free kick of their own, but this proved unsuccessful. In the chaos of all this, UCI’s goalie, Pruter, entered the opponent’s box in order to assist his team any way he could, leaving his own box. 

In the aftermath of the free kick, LMU sophomore forward Anthony Wilson was able to retrieve the ball and dribble to the opposite box, as Pruter himself similarly raced to defend his position. Passing the ball to Smalls, the Lions were able to achieve yet another easy goal, making the game 4-2 and heartbreakingly beating UCI with only seconds left in the match. 

Sadly, UCI men’s soccer ended their season 9-6-4 in heartbreaking action, as both players and fans alike stood quiet as LMU advanced to play UCLA in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Nov. 19. However, the Anteaters were still able to prove their remarkable work ethic and skills throughout the season, leading to a Big West Conference Championship as well as another phenomenal season that all can be proud of. 

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