Men's Soccer: Duo energizes UC Irvine

Former prep teammates have realigned to anchor an Anteaters' defense that has 10 shutouts.

November 27, 2013|By Barry Faulkner
  • Tarek Morad has been a key defender for UC Irvine, which has reached the NCAA Tournament's round of 16.
Tarek Morad has been a key defender for UC Irvine, which… (KEVIN CHANG, Daily…)

Like gears engineered with precision, synchronous by design, Marco Franco and Tarek Morad operate cohesively within conversational distance of one another on the soccer pitch.

Both senior center defenders for Big West Conference Tournament champion UC Irvine, the duo, with their less-than-menacing middleweight physiques, continually shut down opposing attackers with the acumen of master pick-pockets.

If it's a shin-scraping tackle, or a strong-armed tug of a jersey to gain positioning that is your idea of entertaining defense, you wouldn't much care for the consummate finesse with which these two former Chino Hills High teammates deliver healthy doses of frustration to strikers whose worth is judged on a statistical scale.

And while their first responsibility is protecting the clean sheet (soccer slang for a shutout), their talents spill over to the Anteaters' offense. Whether it be one of Franco's deft dribbling runs to generate an attack, or Morad's visionary passing to align his allies in maximum striking capability, they are two of the most dependable and valuable weapons in Coach George Kuntz's lineup.


Together, Franco and Morad have helped UCI (15-4-3), the No. 12 seed in the NCAA Tournament, reach the round of 16 against No. 5-seeded Maryland (14-3-5 ) on Sunday at 2 p.m. PST. They have also helped UCI produce 10 shutouts. In addition to sophomore goalkeeper Michael Breslin, and outside backs Bryan Breslin, a junior, and Thomas Janjigian, a freshman, they are largely responsible for opponents managing just 18 goals in 22 games.

Franco, a 5-foot-11, 155-pounder who started parts of all four seasons in the program, was the Big West Defender of the Year this season, in which he has two assists to bring his career total to 10. The former defensive midfielder is the faster of the two, according to his partner.

"I feel like Marco plays more like an outside back," Morad said. "He likes to dribble and go and beat attackers. He's more dribble-oriented and he has the speed to do it, unlike myself. I feel like I play the position from a defensive midfielder mindset, where I'm always shifting the ball. I try to thread the needle, play simple, play quickly and get out of pressure. I think I can bring that composure to center back and help my team that way."

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