The UC Riverside (9-4-1, 4-0-1) men’s soccer team continued their red-hot Big West Conference play at home on Wednesday, Oct. 12 against UC Irvine (3-11-0, 1-4-0) with a landslide three-nil victory. Romario Lomeli had his fingerprints, (or his footprints rather), all over this match as he scored his fifth goal of the year, thanks to an assist from forward Tyler Miguel, and assisted on the other two goals the Highlanders scored. Defender Stephen Copley scored the second goal of the night in the 29th minute off a Lomeli cross into the box, followed by Lomeli’s second assist of the night via a corner kick to defender Philipp Dominique in the 41st minute.
Although the Highlanders ran away with this match, they got off to an uncharacteristically slow start, allowing eight shots within the first 20 minutes of play. Head Coach Tim Cupello admitted, “we had a few scares in the first two minutes,” as Irvine attacked their goal early. However, keeper Vincent Morales stifled Irvine’s attack all night long collecting eight saves in the match to add to his conference-leading total of 79. He also brought his save percentage to .814 which is also conference-leading. Morales was very vocal during his team’s slow start, yelling for his teammates to wake up and focus as well as coordinating the defense he securely anchors.
This Highlander squad has absolutely found their identity and their style as they have now set a program record for best conference start with four wins and a draw. Cupello believes this record-breaking play is a byproduct of the team’s “humble approach” and “strong spirit and confidence and all the hard work these guys have put in.” While Cupello admits scoring three goals is not necessarily what they are looking to do, he asserts the defensive tenacity is really what they are looking for. Morales echoed his coach’s sentiments saying, “I believe defense builds championships” and expanded on that saying, “our defense was solid in the back and we created opportunities for our forwards.”
Cupello’s squad has found a powerful driving force in the Highlanders’ close bond and resilient team culture, of which every member of the roster has bought into wholeheartedly. As Morales explained it, “we have a roster of 30 brothers … we invest in our relationships and that’s only made us stronger.” The strength of this team is apparent by their record and maturity on the field, and Cupello does not intend to change anything up. “We want more of the same. It’s now about how can we get better than we are (today),” explained Cupello.
Despite suffering their first conference loss, 1-0, at Cal State Fullerton on Saturday, Oct. 15, the Highlanders are still leading the Big West South Division and are a single point behind UC Santa Barbara for outright control of the entire conference. There are four matches remaining in the regular season and UCR is poised to finish the season just as strong as they started. The Highlanders take the field again on Wednesday, Oct.19 at home against Cal State Northridge at 7 p.m.