CSUF men’s soccer ended its chances for another Big West title after a goal in overtime put UC Riverside on top, 3-2 in the semifinal round.
“Our guys played with a lot of heart,” said Titans head coach George Kuntz. “I’m proud of their resiliency, the way they played tonight. They’re disappointed but we stuck to our guns, we’ve played the way we always played.”
In the first minutes of the game, Fullerton had two opportunities to get the advantage but the Highlanders defense deflected both chances.
The duration of the first period was a battle for possession between both teams. However, UC Riverside pushed to complete passes as it had seven shots over the Titans six in the first half.
It wasn’t until the final seconds of the first half that a shot from Highlanders’ midfielder Daniel Aguirre found its way past the reach of goalkeeper Paul Andre-Guerin’s hand for the first goal of the game.
“We just dropped too deep. It’s that simple. We gave up a goal right before half and it gave them the lead, now we’re catching the game and it’s an emotional swing for these teams,” Kuntz said.
With Riverside up 1-0, the Titans looked to even the score. In its sixth corner kick of the night, Titans’ midfielder Ross McPhie was able to put the ball away from the cross with a header straight to the back of the net.
The second half looked much like the first and Fullerton found itself with more possession over Riverside.
In the 66th minute, another corner kick from CSUF ended with a goal that deflected off a Highlander’s foot and into Riverside’s net. Fullerton took a 2-1 lead and fought to hold the advantage until the end.
With the momentum brought back into play, Riverside and Fullerton began to play with more intensity and aggressiveness.
Within 10 minutes of the Titans’ second goal, three yellow cards were given.
Only one of those cards was called on Fullerton.
In the 81st minute, Guerin took down a Highlander in an attempt to stop an incoming ball from reaching the net and it resulted in a penalty kick.
“I have to review the PK because I hear different things but it is what it is,” Kuntz said. “We didn’t create enough to put the game away and we have to be better when we have a 2-1 lead.”
Guerin was given Fullerton’s second yellow card for the foul, and Riverside was able to tie the game 2-2 after Dusan Keca’s goal from the penalty.
“There was two completely different styles of play and you can be the purest and say this team possesses and keeps the ball and the other one lumps it. But it worked for them,” Kuntz said. “(Riverside) pressured well and created enough pressure to create those goals.”
The final minutes of the game were a battle to break the tie, but neither team was able to score, forcing the match into overtime.
“Fullerton is a good team,” said Highlanders head coach Tim Cupello. “A week later we’re in overtime again with them. They’re good and we’re good. It’s Big West, its a great conference that we compete in, one of the best soccer conferences in the country.”
With only two minutes left in the first period of overtime, a swift play from Riverside’s Daniel Castaneda in front of Guerin ended in a goal.
The Titans couldn’t answer Riverside’s goal and were eliminated from the Big West Tournament.
“I was looking for a little more gas at the end and there wasn’t somebody there that would take that torch,” Kuntz said.
With the defeat looming over the Titans and the 14 graduating seniors, Kuntz emphasized the experience they all gained in this final match.
“You have to close it out and you have to finish the job,” Kuntz said. “What I asked them to do is don’t ever forget this moment in the loss because it’s a huge growing opportunity in life as far as accountability and responsibility.”
In Kuntz’s five years with the program, this is the second time the Titans will not play in the Big West Finals.
“I hope that pain seeps in, you can’t grow without pain,” Kuntz said. “If there’s anything that comes out of this as a positive, these guys will now look themselves in the mirror and digest: ‘What could I have done better, what can I do in the off season that can make me a better player?’”
This loss marks the end of the season and the beginning of preparation for those returning next season.