The past seven times No. 8 UC Davis and No. 20 UC Irvine have gotten together on the soccer field, the game has either ended in a tie or a one-goal differential.
Saturday was no different.
In a game that UC Irvine needed badly to stay in the top half of the Big West Conference standings, the teams battled hard to their second 1-1 tie of the season at Aggie Soccer Stadium.
“I think both teams are pretty good teams,” said head coach Dwayne Shaffer. “They had to win the game and we knew that.“
The Anteaters opened up the scoring when sophomore forward Spencer Thompson booted in a pass from in front of the goal courtesy of senior midfielder Matt Murphy in the 17th minute.
For the fourth consecutive game, the Aggies went into the half trailing – a problem they do not take so lightly.
“It’s definitely an issue that we need to start dealing with,” said senior midfielder Dylan Curtis. “Coming from behind is something that is much easier to do at home when you have your fans behind you.“
The Aggies promptly dealt with the matter.
Less than five minutes into the second half, Curtis left-footed the ball into the left corner of the net from 15 yards out to even the score.
“Originally the play was drawn up to cross it in,” Curtis said. “When I was over there setting the ball up, I looked up at [sophomore midfielder Julian Godinez] and asked him if there was anybody near him. He said no, so I told him to just toe it out to me. They just weren’t expecting it and I was able to put a good strike on the ball. The goalie couldn’t see the ball and it went in through traffic.“
“There is no design on that play,” Shaffer said. “The guys have the freedom to make a decision on what they want to do. Sometimes we rip it into the mixer and sometimes we go short and try to score. Dylan was fortunate right there. They gave him a wide open lane, he beat the guy off the dribble and then he just placed it perfectly in the far corner.“
Neither team was able to score again in a match that resulted in 48 fouls and four yellow cards.
“It’s a physical game when we play Irvine,” Curtis said. “It is a good rivalry. Nothing was too cheap and I was happy with the play today.“
The Aggies are content with the tie for now, as they will remain at the top of the Big West standings with 15 points. However, Shaffer still believes that UC Davis is a superior squad to UC Irvine.
“We gave [UC Irvine] life again,“ Shaffer said. “We made them better than they really are and then we fought back. I thought we were a lot better than that team.“
“Irvine is a good team,” said senior midfielder Sule Anibaba. “They play hard and they are very physical.… That’s how we play, too. We play physical and try to out-hustle you. We were hoping for a win. A tie is not bad. We are still leading the Big West.“
Even with the tie, Shaffer is excited with the direction in which his team is headed.
“With two games left I am pretty comfortable with our position right now,” Shaffer said. “We are 4-1-3 in the conference, one of the toughest in the country. There are basically four teams in the conference right now that are top-25 teams, so every game is just an absolute battle.
“My guys are battling like crazy and I think we are playing great soccer. I thought we had some great chances to score the game winner and I am happy with my team.“
The Aggies will now shift their focus to a Nov. 2 match-up with Cal Poly at Alex G. Spanos Stadium, which held over 11,000 people in a recent contest with UC Santa Barbara.
“In an environment like that our team just eats it up,” Curtis said. “We enjoy it. We go out there – it’s a blast. To have people heckling you and yelling at you is the environment of soccer.“
“Last time we went down there, the fans were very rude,” Anibaba said. “They call you names. They will try to get on your nerves but you just can’t listen. You can’t take it personal. You have to ask yourself, ‘Are you going to fold or step up?'”
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