Clutch Goal Keeps Playoff Hopes Alive

    After struggling to score goals for much of the season, the scoreless game against Cal State Los Angeles late into the second period looked all too familiar to the Tritons. Senior forward Tony Fernandez was able to break the tie in the 83rd minute of regulation with the game’s only goal to put UCSD on top. (Andrew Ricci/Guardian)

    MEN’S SOCCER — The men’s soccer team made its conference home finale count in a big way on Oct. 19, downing No. 4 Cal State Los Angeles 1-0 at Triton Soccer Field. Senior forward Tony Fernandez scored the game winner late in the second half, in a match that seemed destined to end in a scoreless draw.

    The win moves the Tritons’ overall record to 8-5-2 and their California Collegiate Athletic Association record to 5-5-2. The win was the first at home since a 3-0 triumph against Cal Poly Pomona on Sept. 26 and the second in the past three matches.

    The afternoon clash resembled a typical CCAA match from the start, with both teams bringing physical play to the pitch. Chances were few and far between for both sides, but the Tritons capitalized on one of their opportunities with less than 10 minutes left to play. In the 83rd minute, senior forward Tom Caplan crossed a ball from the right side of the field into the box, where junior midfielder Tony Choi was streaking toward the goal. Choi made a great touch on the ball and dropped it back to a trailing Fernandez, who hammered the ball into the back of the net.

    The goal was the third of the season for Fernandez and his biggest score to date. Fernandez also led the Triton attack with two shots. Caplan, Choi and junior midfielder Shane Micheil added one shot each.

    “The last time we played them we gave up a weak goal and we really thought we should have won that game,” Fernandez said. “They were on our field and there was no way we were going to let them get away with a victory.”

    Fernandez’s goal was certainly the highlight of the match, but it was hardly the only reason for the victory. The Triton defense came up huge, led by senior goalkeeper Peter Akman, who made six saves to post his sixth clean sheet of the season. UCSD was out-shot 11-5 and the Golden Eagles held a stunning corner kick advantage of 8-0. But the players in the squad dug their collective heels in on defense to keep Cal State Los Angeles off the score sheet.

    Head coach John Pascale credited his team for standing its ground against one of the more talented teams at the Division-II level in a match that featured a total of 30 fouls and five yellow cards.
    “It was a physical game and we kept our concentration when it was hard to,” he said. “It was really a grind-it-out game and I thought our guys did a great job.”

    Choi pointed to strong training sessions prior to the match as a key reason for the victory.

    “We have committed to winning our games in practice,” he said. “Playing the No. 4 team in the nation with the season on the line motivated us to work a lot harder.”

    Fernandez agreed that the team has turned the intensity up a notch heading into the final parts of the schedule.

    “Everybody is showing up to practice fired up,” he said. “It has been a great environment.”

    The Tritons will have to use their newfound momentum heading into the final week of conference play. While the team will need a little luck, its hopes for postseason competition are still alive if it can win its last three matches.

    UCSD will play its final home contest of the season against Seattle Pacific University on Oct. 25 in a nonconference matchup before the Tritons take to the road to finish up conference play. They will travel north to face Cal State San Bernardino on Oct. 31 and finish the regular season against Cal Poly Pomona on Nov. 2. The squad played both sides during its last home stand, beating Cal Poly Pomona 3-0 on Sept. 26 and falling to Cal State San Bernardino 3-0 on Sept. 28.

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