IRVINE — History renders it rare and the rankings tell us it's an upset. And with two penalty kicks constituting the difference, some might even call it a fluke.
But UC Irvine senior leader Enrique Cardenas, who like most of the Anteaters roster experienced an excruciating 2012 campaign, believes UCI's landmark 3-1 nonconference men's soccer victory over No. 11-ranked UCLA on Thursday is merely what the determined 'Eaters deserve.
"Personally I don't believe in luck," said Cardenas, who booted in two penalty kicks to help the Anteaters, ranked No. 24 by College Soccer News and No. 25 by TopDrawerSoccer.com, improve to 4-1-2 with their second win over a ranked team this season. "Honestly, you make your own luck and you get what you deserve. We lost all those games [5-14-1 including 10 losses by a single goal that was scored, on average, in the 91st minute, including five overtime tallies] and, yeah, it was unfortunate. But we learned from it and we're going to have a great year this year because of it."
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The 'Eaters' year, which included a 1-1 road tie against reigning NCAA champion Indiana on Sunday and a 1-0 win on Sept. 13 at then-No. 16-ranked Louisville, got considerably better in front of a season-best crowd of 1,147.
"We're competing," said UCI Coach George Kuntz, who saw UCI defeat UCLA (3-2-1) for only the third time. UCI topped the then-No. 2-ranked Bruins in 2001 at UCLA and also triumphed over a No. 7-ranked UCLA squad at home in 1994. "As you see, we're not jumping up and down [after the game]. We'll walk off the field and stay calm. It's one game … one game. We want to get back to where we were."
Where UCI had been before last season was perennially at the top of the Big West Conference, ever present on the second tier of the national stage and regularly in the NCAA Tournament.
The Anteaters showed their determination from the outset, swarming the UCLA cage with a trio of scoring chances in the opening minutes.
Junior Cameron Iwasa opened the scoring in the 10th minute. Iwasa took a long feed from goalie Michael Breslin just past midfield and sprinted down the right wing, throwing a shoe in the process. Just after he entered the 18-yard box, Iwasa hammered a low driving shot into the near corner of the goal for his first goal of the season.
In the 57th minute, Cardenas, who now has a team-best four goals, was taken down in the box to set up his own penalty kick.
After UCLA halved the deficit on a header by senior forward and former Corona del Mar High star Reed Williams in the 74th minute, Cardenas, nicknamed "Keykeh" provided a second Keykeh PK after a hand ball in the box by the Bruins to finalize the score in the 78th minute.
"We have a game plan and we have a system and we're playing to win," Cardenas said of his team's approach in 2013. "So it's not a surprise to us. We got the W, but we made some mistakes. We'll look at the video, see what we did wrong, learn from it and then move on to the next game."
UCI, which took 13 shots, allowed eight, more than its season average. But with only one shot on goal, UCI foes have managed just 14 on frame this season, by far the fewest allowed by any Big West team.
Kuntz credited senior center backs Marco Franco and Tarek Morad, as well as defensive midfielders Michael Sperber and Mats Bjurman for helping clog up things for opposing offenses.
"If I'm [an opposing] forward, that block of four makes me have to play around it," Kuntz said.
Mitchell Alvarez, who matched Iwasa with a team-best four shots, Trey Hayes, Thomas Janjigian and Bryan Breslin were additional UCI starters who helped key the victory.
Victor Munoz (two) was the only Bruin with more than one shot.