In an intense game for the Big West Conference title, the UC Davis men’s soccer team’s run came to an end at the hands of Cal State Northridge.
The game was a marquee matchup between the two top teams in their respective divisions, the Aggies from the Big West North Division and the Matadors from the South.
UC Davis was taken down by the single goal of the game, which was knocked in by CSU Northridge in the 15th minute to give them the 1-0 lead that they would hold onto for the rest of the game.
“I’m very proud of my team; I thought we played well but unfortunately we gave up a nice goal,” said head coach Dwayne Shaffer. “We couldn’t recover from it, but overall I thought my team played very well and did all the things necessary to score a goal but it just didn’t go our way.”
The lone goal of the game came when CSU Northridge converted an opportunity in the middle of the box. The Matadors took a shot that shocked the Aggies, bouncing off the cross bar and down into the goal.
The best chance for the Aggies probably came about five minutes later. UC Davis had an opportunity in the goal box that, after some ball movement, found the goalie out of position at the edge of the box. Sophomore Ian Palmer fired a shot from outside the box that clanged off the crossbar and CSU Northridge escaped with the lead.
Both teams threatened throughout the game, playing with the feeling of urgency that came with the fact that the season was on the line.
“We created numerous opportunities to put pressure on Northridge, but unfortunately one didn’t go in for us today,” Shaffer said. “I thought we had the game in the second half but I tip my hat off to Cal State Northridge.”
The game got chippy as the intensity level rose in the high-stakes game. It seemed like just a matter of time that the Aggies would convert on one of their 14 shots, but the goal never came.
The Matadors got off only eight shots with three shots on goal, compared to UC Davis’ five on goal, but those numbers don’t mean as much as the 1-0 statistical advantage CSU Northridge had over the Aggies in goals.
Junior goalie Omar Zeenni played a good game in the goal, despite the one blemish on his record that was the impressive CSU Northridge goal that can hardly be pegged on Zeenni.
The UC Davis lack of goals shouldn’t necessarily be put on the Aggies’ offensive struggles, but is more of a credit to the Matador goalkeeper. Michael Abalos had several beautiful saves on shots that easily could have been goals for UC Davis.
This was the first time in the Big West Conference finals for the two teams that ended the regular season with identical 7-3-0 records in league competition, but Shaffer gives credit to the Matadors.
“Maybe the nerves got to both teams to start the game, but once we settled in, I felt like we played the same style and system that got us here,” Shaffer said. “They’re a good team, and I coach college soccer for a living so I know how tough it is to win 15 games in a college season [like CSU Northridge did].”
The Aggies fall to 10-7-4 on the year with an 8-4 Big West Conference record, while Cal State Northridge wins the automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament that comes along with the Big West Conference Championship title.
UC Davis still had a chance to receive an at-large selection into the NCAA Tournament due to its first-place conference finish and several wins over strong teams in the season. The NCAA committee announced their selections on Monday.MATTHEW YUEN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.