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’Eaters engage Gauchos

SOCCER: UC Irvine men, ranked No. 25, aim to impress in Big West opener at UCSB that will be televised by Fox.

October 03, 2007|By Barry Faulkner

The Anteaters could be preoccupied by the absence of redshirt freshman goalie Pat Barton, who did not make the trip after spraining his ankle during warmups for the Brown game, Sept. 23. Barton opened the season with three straight shutouts and five straight wins. Next came a 1-0 double-overtime loss to Loyola of Chicago and a 2-2 tie with Brown. Both of those teams, as well as San Diego State, which the ’Eaters battled to a scoreless tie Saturday, are teams that played in the NCAA Tournament last season.

“Those were [three] teams with a little more confidence than the teams we played earlier,” Kuntz said.

Helping bolster Kuntz’s confidence has been the play of junior midfielder Matt Murphy, who leads the team with 11 points (five goals and one assist). Murphy, the Big West Midfielder of the Year last season and a third-team preseason All-American this year, had double the points of the two next most productive teammates, freshmen Amani Walker and Spencer Thompson. Murphy had 10 goals and five assists in 2006.

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Walker and Thompson, forwards for whom Kuntz has predicted great futures, have two goals and one assist apiece heading into tonight’s contest.

Kuntz said Shane Westbrook, a junior center midfielder, and junior center defenders David Sias and Kyle Schmid have also been central to the team’s early success, as have freshman midfielder Indar Smith and senior defender Brandon Foster.

Junior Greg Larson will replace Barton in goal. Larson, who began his career at San Diego State, blanked the Aztecs in his first UCI start and Kuntz said the team has complete faith in him.

Kuntz said UCSB is similar to last season, when the two teams split their conference meetings. UCI has not won at UCSB since 2005.

The Gauchos return three all-conference performers, including 6-foot-5 senior Andy Iro, who has twice been named Big West Defender of the Year. Junior midfielder Eric Avila was a first-team all-conference honoree last season, while sophomore forward Bongomin Otii was a second-team choice.

The Gauchos, who opened conference with a 4-0 triumph over UC Davis, have scored 10 goals in their last three games, after having scored seven in their previous five. Chris Pontius leads UCSB with four goals and one assist, followed by Avila with three goals and two assists.


BARRY FAULKNER may be reached at (714) 966-4615 or at barry.faulkner@latimes.com.

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