by Henry Cullen
A record high attendance of over 150 packed the stands at Warren Field on Friday night as UC San Diego Men’s Club Soccer played host to perennial rivals, San Diego State. The UC/State game is always a highly anticipated match but this season’s was one for the ages.
After a disappointing debut in the West Coast Soccer Association Premier Division last season, UCSD was now poised to secure a first place finish by facing the conference’s only other undefeated team.
San Diego State, led by seniors Ross Holden and Arturo Hoyos, came into the game ranked first in the region after winning the prestigious Aztec Cup last month. Both sides were undoubtedly looking for some closure after a midweek draw at SDSU left all parties wholly unsatisfied. UC San Diego had come from behind to draw level after an early State goal but was unable to finish the job despite having the better chances in the second half.
As UCSD took the field on Friday night, the players were sporting pink tape on their wrists and shin guards in support of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In addition, a halftime charity raffle raised over $300 for the National Breast Cancer Foundation and the crowd was streaked with pink from fans who had joined #pinkout to show their support.
Both sides came out full speed ahead, trying to set the tone for what would be a thrilling match from start to finish. San Diego State had a number of early offensive breakthroughs but the UCSD defense held its ground, anchored by senior captain Henry Cullen and standout new center back, Jaime Ayala. The first half was strewn with hard challenges and near-misses but both teams headed into the break scoreless.
Like their midweek home match, it would be San Diego State who would break the deadlock after a second half corner kick sailed over the UCSD defense and goalkeeper Vik Rendchintala and somehow found its way inside the far post.
Determined to overcome the deficit, UC San Diego kept pressuring SDSU down the flanks until junior captain Quinn Frantzen was brought down on a darting run along the right hand side of State’s defensive end. UCSD loaded the State penalty box with their tallest players as Henry Cullen lined up the free kick delivery. Cullen’s kick floated high above the crowd in the SDSU box and found his fellow center defender Jaime Ayala, who leapt like a young salmon and buried the header in the back of the net.
Unfortunately, it was not long after drawing level that UCSD was hit with a couple of tough blows in the form of injuries to freshman outside back Bailey Marsheck and senior midfielder Adam Zeman, followed by an ejection as senior defender Mike Ranis picked up his second yellow card.
Bolstered by their opponent’s tough breaks and a one man advantage, San Diego State surged forward to steal the three points in the final minutes.
But it was not to be! With the roar of the crowd behind them, UCSD turned back the late SDSU barrage and fashioned a counterattack of their own. Scarcely a minute remained on the clock as junior midfielder Francisco Salinas’ beautifully arching pass found forward Emil Kirov on the left side of the SDSU penalty box. Kirov cut inside and unleashed a powerful right-footed shot that State’s goalkeeper could only grasp at as it sailed into the top corner.
Moments later, the referee’s final whistle sealed this edition of the San Diego Clasico with UCSD victory.
“This game represented our whole season. Battling back from injuries and overcoming obstacles like the early 0-1 and the red card, our team deserved this win,” said Kirov after the game. “And it felt great to share this finale with all the fans.”
“When I saw both of our State games at the end of the schedule, I knew it was going to come down to those last games to decide who wins the conference,” said Captain-turned-Coach Henry Cullen, “I’m so proud of the way our team fought to stay in this game and I couldn’t be happier with the result.”
After finishing the regular season with a match against USD on Sunday, UC San Diego will head to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo this weekend for the Regional Championship.