Cal State Fullerton men’s soccer made its biggest statement of the season as the Titans pulled off a 1-0 upset over Big West leaders UC Riverside Saturday night at Titan Stadium.
With the conference season creeping past the halfway point, the Titans put together a collective team effort in order to upend a surging Highlander team that was undefeated in Big West play at 4-0.
UC Riverside was no match for Fullerton’s superior ball movement and tenacity as the Titans went on to earn a much-needed victory.
“I think the puzzle is just finally coming together. We’ve seen the proof in the pudding the last 10 days in the training and the guys just coming together a little bit, having some talks and just being closer as a team and working as unit,” said Head Coach George Kuntz.
The Titans did well to impose their style of play on the opposition and hold the ball in UCR’s half for a majority of the game. CSUF midfielder Ronaldo Pineda was the offensive catalyst, creating chances in the final third and causing problems for the Highlander defense with his quickness and elusive moves.
Fullerton had plenty of opportunities to score but struggled to execute as most of its shots taken didn’t pose any serious threat. Despite their dominance and 12 recorded shots compared to UCR’s two, the Titans were unable to break the deadlock as the score remained 0-0 heading into the break.
The second half featured more of the same. The Titans continued to apply pressure up top while the Highlanders had no answers for Fullerton’s speed, especially out on the wings.
Senior Alex Heilmann, who is the leading scorer for the Titans with eight goals, was relatively quiet throughout the game and was subbed out for forward Jacob Perez in the 63rd minute. Perez made an impact right away, linking up well with Pineda, Oscar Torres and Diego Sanchez in the Titans’ efforts for the rest of the half.
The closest chance for Fullerton came in the 68th minute when Pineda played a short through ball to an onrushing Perez, who sliced through the defense for an open shot on goal. UCR goalkeeper Vincent Morales then came off his line to knock the ball away but Perez managed to recover the ball and send a tantalizing cross in front of an empty net. Unfortunately for the Titans, UCR center back Stephen Copely was able to clear the ball away from danger just in time.
The Titans’ hard work finally paid off in the 76th minute. Pineda, who had been wreaking havoc on the UCR defense all game long, was able to get a solid strike on the ball from the left side of the 18-yard box. Pineda’s shot was too hot to handle for Morales as he attempted to make the save but dropped it right in the lap of Perez, who buried the shot from point-black range, to give Fullerton a 1-0 lead.
In the closing moments, the Titans did their best to fend off UC Riverside’s last-ditch attempts to score. However, the Highlanders were awarded a penalty kick in the 87th minute after the official called a handball inside the box on CSUF.
With the win on the line, Fullerton looked to goalkeeper David Elias, who just recovered from a broken hand suffered over the summer. UCR’s Tyler Miguel stepped up to take the penalty but fortunately for the Titans, Elias made the play of the game, blocking Miguel’s shot to secure the victory for his team.
Kuntz had high praise for his team’s fighting spirit and is content with the way the Titans are coming along.
“We feel like we can compete in this league very well and our guys proved it tonight,” Kuntz said “We’ve just worked to try to get a little better each game. So I’m really proud of these guys.”
The win leaves the Titans with a 2-3-1 conference record, as well as keeping their Big West title hopes alive.
Having finally gained some footing, the Titans will continue their conference campaign with a match against UC Irvine (2-4 Big West) Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Titan Stadium.