UCI Men's Soccer Preview: Don't call it a comeback

UC Irvine, which went 5-14-1, had four straight winning seasons before last year, now focuses on finishing.

August 21, 2013|By Barry Faulkner
(KEVIN CHANG / Daily…)

The nick of time was unkind to the UC Irvine men's soccer team last season.

But a closer look at the average time of the winning goal in the Anteaters' 10 one-goal defeats — the 91st minute including five overtime goals — indicates that it may have been more than misfortune that led to a 5-14-1 campaign that halted a string of four straight winning seasons.

"One of the telling factors about a team is its fitness," said UCI Coach George Kuntz, who is in his 19th season. "We didn't have that last year. This year, all our [five healthy] seniors made our [preseason] fitness test [requirements] and some of them overachieved."

Kuntz, who guided the Anteaters to three NCAA Tournament appearances in four seasons from 2008 to 2011, during which time they won three regular-season conference titles and two conference tournament crowns, said his team may not need to overachieve to post a winning season in 2013.


"Some people may want to call it a rebound year, but we know we have something," said Kuntz, whose long-range faith in this year's roster prompted arguably the most challenging schedule in the program's history.

Some of that optimism was tarnished when no fewer than four Anteaters went down with torn anterior cruciate knee ligaments, one late in 2012 and the other three in the off-season.

Included among the casualties are senior midfielder Gor Kirakosyan, sophomore defender Matt Tilley and junior defender Victor Calderon, all returning starters that Kuntz said are likely out for the season.

The schedule includes a road date at No. 1-ranked Indiana (Sept. 15), a home clash against No. 9 UCLA (Sept. 19) and another road test at No. 10-ranked Louisville (Sept. 13). Further, UCI opponents Xavier (road), UC Santa Barbara (home) and Cal State Northridge (home and away) were among others receiving votes in the NCAA preseason top-25 poll.

The foreboding schedule, the injuries, and the lack of success last season are all providing motivational fuel for a group of players that Kuntz describes as admirably workmanlike.

"We scheduled up this year and I think it will be fun," Kuntz said. "The guys are amped and excited. They want nothing less than to play against the best opponents possible. That's why they play Division I soccer."

Those guys include proven standouts Marco Franco, Christian Santana, Enrique Cardenas, Trey Hayes, Cameron Iwasa and Tarek Morad, who form a strong group of returning starters that may also include goalie Michael Breslin.

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