CARSON — If UC Irvine men's soccer coach George Kuntz could have altered the script of Thursday's exhibition match against the Chivas USA reserve team at StubHub Center, he likely would have tinkered with the final score.
But even that may end up working in the Anteaters' favor on a day that included some much-needed positives, but also enough elements of concern to prevent any unwanted complacency heading into the season opener on Aug. 30 at home against Marist.
The two teams played three 35-minute periods on a practice field behind the stadium Thursday and Chivas USA, whose A team competes in Major League Soccer, wound up with a 2-1 advantage.
However, after two periods, in which UCI played its starters almost exclusively, the Anteaters had a 1-0 lead and could be said to have had the better of the play.
"The first group looks good and that's what [Chivas coaches] told us," said Kuntz, in his 19th season and coming off a 2012 campaign in which the 'Eaters lost 10 one-goal decisions, with the average time of the game-winning goal in those matches being the 91st minute.
That trend of late lapses continued Thursday, though Chivas USA took advantage of some unproven UCI reserves, some of whom had very little experience as Division I players, to avert defeat.
The hosts evened the score in the 90th minute off a UCI turnover in its own third. Chivas USA then pulled ahead by converting a corner kick in the final seconds of the third period, after one of its attackers was fouled in the box by sophomore goalkeeper Michael Breslin.
"It was promising," Kuntz said of the first two periods, which included a breakaway goal by junior forward Trey Hayes and an 11-10 shot advantage for the visitors. "You can see we have something there. That was good soccer in the first two periods. But there was a huge drop-off with our second group, which is disappointing to me. That drop-off scares me, because when injuries occur and you are a little banged up in the Big West season, you need other guys to stand up and fill in."
There appeared to be no holes in the UCI starting lineup, however, as senior Enrique Cardenas, Hayes, junior captain Cameron Iwasa and junior Mitchell Alvarez attacked with skill and aggressiveness up front for the Anteaters.
Further, senior center defenders Marco Franco and Tarek Morad anchored a back line that included freshman Thomas Janjigian and sophomore Noah Gaines.
Joel vom Dorp, a 6-foot-4 junior, and sophomore Mats Bjurman played well in the midfield for UCI, for which Breslin collected four saves.
Kuntz singled out Cardenas, whose play-making skills were on display throughout. Kuntz also praised the runs made by Hayes and credited the defensive work of Franco and Morad in the center of the back line.
Cardenas fed Hayes with a through ball for the UCI goal in the 34th minute. Hayes carried in deep and boomed the ball low and past the charging keeper.
Cardenas just missed a couple assists on crosses into the box, when UCI attackers just missed getting their head on the ball, or flicked their headers over the net.
Alvarez led the visitors with four shots, including a rebound volley off a Cardenas shot that the goalie hauled in just inside the post for a save in the 12th minute.
UCI used 18 players, none of whom sustained a serious injury, though Kuntz said a lump on Cardenas' nose may indicate a broken nose.
UCI, with four players already sidelined by torn anterior cruciate knee ligaments, was also without senior forward Christian Santana, who is recovering from a hand injury.
"If we had won this, we may have thought 'Oh, we're all about this,' said Kuntz, whose team won a spring exhibition against MLS entry Real Salt Lake's reserve team. "It's all part of a revealing process."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun