After what has been a wild and thrilling season, the UC Riverside men’s soccer team (7-10-3, 4-2-1) saw an end to their season on Thursday night, falling 1-0 in their NCAA Tournament debut against the University of the Pacific (12-4-2, 5-2).
The match was initially set to take place in Stockton at the University of the Pacific’s campus, but the school announced a full campus closure for the rest of the week due to poor air quality. The fires in Northern California caused these procedures, as the match was relocated to Fresno Pacific University instead, where there wasn’t as much smoke.
The first half opened up with the Tigers on the Highlander’s end of the field for the majority of the first 20 minutes. This eventually led to Pacific’s Anthony Orendain scoring the game’s lone goal in the 23rd minute, marking his third goal of the season.
With UCR trailing 1-0 heading into break, head coach Tim Cupello motivated his squad to leave everything out on the field in the second half, along with reaffirming the confidence the coaching staff had in their team.
“[I] told our guys we have to go for it,” Cupello told goHighlanders.com, adding, “we can’t be afraid of the stage we’re on.”
And although this didn’t transfer directly into goals, there’s no question that his words certainly had an effect on the players, as the Highlanders approached the second half more aggressively than the first. In the final 45 minutes of play, Riverside fired nine shots on goal compared to five for Pacific.
Though they had a rough start to their season, UCR found their groove at the perfect time, going 7-2-1 in their final 10 matches. And although the team has seven graduating seniors this school year, several key returners in freshman Daniel Castaneda, sophomore Daniel Aguirre, and junior Edwyn Gutierrez will be back next season to try and pick up where the team left off.
Despite the loss, there’s no doubt that the program and university should be proud of the men’s team’s accomplishments this season. This year’s team has raised the bar in terms of expectations, especially after winning the conference and earning their first-ever NCAA Tournament berth. Hopefully from here, the team will be able to move even further with the experience of returning players, along with possible new recruits that want to be a part of a revitalized program.