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Men's Soccer: UCI's Cardenas finds his way

UCI senior scoring leader had to grow up before he could bear down.

October 09, 2013|By Barry Faulkner
  • Enrique Cardenas has produced five goals and three assists to lead UC Irvine.
Enrique Cardenas has produced five goals and three assists… (Courtesy of UCI…)

The collective groan from the crowd is as much a part of soccer as the colorful cleats. Spectators who take in 90 minutes of action are virtually guaranteed to see a series of maddening misfires, marginal miscalculations and the inevitable lapses of perfection that turn scoring chances into wasted opportunities.

Those who play the game are weaned on frustration, forced to justify as unlucky the dozens of instances each game in which an inch here or there might have altered the outcome, but instead left the coveted spotlight unclaimed.

Rare is the player who has not been frazzled by futility and addled by annoyance, resigned to rage against the maddening malaise with the inevitable shoulder shrug and the recitation of the game's universal credo: "That's soccer."

But through more than a decade on the pitch and a wondrous run of club and high school success, Enrique Cardenas had managed to escape all this, his enthusiastic love for the game, and his patience, virtually unscathed.

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"We lost four games in four years," the UC Irvine senior forward and midfielder said of his time at Coachella Valley High, where he was named CIF Southern Section Player of the Year in his division and stirred things at the center of a soccer-rich culture that elevated him into a cult hero. "And I cried after every one of them."

The baby to four older sisters and two doting parents, Cardenas was coddled at home, where though luxuries were scarce, he typically needed only to express a wish for it to be granted.

When it came time to choose a college, Cardenas bristled at the thought of meeting interested coaches halfway, instead endorsing the more catered approach taken by Anteaters' head man George Kuntz, who figuratively laid his jacket over any potentially muddy spots along the recruiting road.

"I had a great career in high school and I came to Irvine thinking I was going to play," Cardenas, known as Keeykeh, said.

But slowed by a balky hamstring and a wrenched knee that prevented him from preparing for his freshman season, Cardenas was asked to redshirt the 2009 campaign that eventually produced a Big West Conference tournament title and a second straight trip to the NCAA Tournament.

All the frustration the game could deliver, hit him like a blind-slide tackle. And, upended, he lay motionless on the ground of a once-promising career.

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