It all came down to one penalty kick to send UCSD to their first National championship tournament since 2011. Firas Eid, the captain, stepped up to take the kick. The ref blew his whistle and Eid ran towards the ball…
UCSD Men’s club soccer came into the regional tournament hosted by Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with a first-place finish in the SoCal conference and an undefeated record of 5-0-1. The tournament rules were simple, get first place in your group of four teams and advance to one of the two semifinals where the winner received an automatic bid to Nationals. However, the path proved to be much more difficult for the Tritons than anticipated.
The first game of the group stage was on Friday night against UC Berkeley. UCSD was off to a great start, but some silly defensive errors cost them as Cal went up 2-0. UCSD showed resilience and fought back to tie the game 2-2 in the last 10 minutes thanks to goals from Freshman, Collier Murraska, and Junior Rohan Oprisko. However, in the last minute of the game a superb strike from Cal saw them go up 3-2 and that’s how the game would finish. A loss to start the group stage was not ideal, but the Tritons knew that if they won out the last two games and some results went their way then they could still advance.
And that’s exactly what happened. UCSD would go on to beat conference opponents UC Irvine 2-0, goals from Seniors Jonah Gooden and Kenan Mesic saw the Tritons get their first win, but a win by Cal against University of Arizona made things tense going into the last game. However, the Tritons prevailed again coming back from a 2-1 deficit to beat Arizona 4-2. Goals were scored by Oprisko, Gooden, Eid, and Christian Gunther. This lead to a three-way tie for first place as Irvine went on to beat Cal 2-0 which meant that it came down to the goal differential tie breaker. Cal had +0, Irvine had +1, and UCSD had +3! This meant that the Tritons would face Stanford in the semifinal to decide who would go to Nationals.
Sunday morning at 10am, UCSD kicked off versus Stanford. After a intense start, the game settled into a physical back and forth battle with both teams refusing to budge. This all changed in the 60th minute when Stanford would latch onto a ball at the corner of the penalty box and force a save out of Vik Renduchintala only to have the Stanford striker score on the rebound. The air was taken out of UCSD’s lungs, but the players had been in this position multiple times this year and within 10 minutes were able to win a corner kick. Emil Kirov swung it into the back post where Kenan Mesic knocked it in the back of the net to bring the score level at 1-1. UCSD however, was dealt a blow in the last 5 minutes of the game when striker Gooden received a second yellow and consequent red card. UCSD went on the full defensive the rest of the game as Stanford pressed for a winner with their man advantage. In the end, regulation time expired with the scores tied and went into a 15 minute golden goal period. Both teams fought extremely hard, especially the 10 men of UCSD who were relieved after 15 minutes to hear the final whistle which meant the game would go to penalty kicks.
It was in penalty kicks where the Tritons prevailed, as senior goalie Vikram Renduchintala made two saves to go along with the zero missed penalties of the Triton kick takers. One of two captains on the team, Firas Eid, put away the final penalty which sparked a massive celebration as all of the Tritons rushed to celebrate with Eid. In the end with chants of “Campeones Ole Ole”, the UCSD club soccer team felt something they hadn’t felt in six years–nationals.
Nationals will be in Phoenix, November 16th-18th. Follow the team on Instagram (@ucsdclubsoccer) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/ucsdsoccerclub/) for the latest updates!