By Nate Tenopir
A comeback win Friday night and the first-ever home game Sunday highlighted the UNO men’s soccer inaugural weekend. In a matchup with two different conference champions from a year ago, the Mavs showed their mettle beating one and having several chances against the other.
On Friday UNO competed in the program’s first game, traveling to Kansas City to take on future Summit League foe UMKC. Although anticipation had been building since the team was announced five months ago, events got off to an ominous start.
Within the first four minutes, the Mavs had already surrendered their first-ever goal and trailed 1-0. A scramble on a Kangaroo corner kick produced a call from a ref that UNO had gotten a hand on the ball inside the six yard box.
Chris Markey put the ensuing penalty kick in the left corner of the Maverick box past a sprawling Josh Christensen. The Mavs almost got the equalizer shortly after when a cross from Logan Mendez found Cody Thayer inside the UMKC box.
Thayer’s try went wide and UNO was unable to convert on its other first half chances trailing 1-0 at the break. Although the Mavs were down on the score sheet they actually held a 5-4 shot advantage in the first 45 minutes.
In the second half, midfielder Vance Rookwood would find Mendez with a through ball for the first goal in the team’s history. At the 56 minute mark Rookwood played a ball long that Mendez was able to catch up to and dribble past defenders for a 40-yard breakaway.
At about the eight-yard mark, Mendez shot the ball to the right post and tied the score at 1-1. Eight minutes later the Mavs would capitalize on a corner kick to score the game winner.
Jordan Gealy sent in the corner to Mo Salama who deflected into the Kangaroo net for the 2-1 lead. Though early season cramps became a factor later in the game, UNO was able to hold on and earn the team’s first-ever win in its first-ever game.
“Playing the Summit League champions and us having a team for 10 days and having our first-ever game, to get a result like that against the team that won the championship…it surprised a lot of guys and gave them some confidence and gave them some belief,” said UNO head coach Jason Mims.
Despite the somewhat surprising win, the Mavs had little time to celebrate as they were back on the field against UC Irvine Sunday afternoon. Like UMKC, the Anteaters won their conference a year ago but also came to Omaha as a nationally ranked program.
The Mavs had early chances, but the talent and skill level that Irvine brought to the pitch would eventually shine through. In the 17th minute Vance Rookwood had beaten the Anteater back line and received a pass for a quick chance all alone against keeper Andrew Fontein.
Rookwood had Fontein beat but his ground shot slid just wide of the left post. Minutes later UNO would get called for a hand ball in the box for the second game in a row.
The Anteaters’ Christian Hernandez calmly slid a shot past UNO keeper Christensen on the ensuing penalty kick. Like Friday night, the Mavs trailed early because of a handball.
UNO had several opportunities in the next 10 minutes to tie the score, but shots either missed the goal just wide or sailed over the cross bar. Again Irvine responded. Miguel Ibarra dribbled in from the left, crossed the ball to teammate Enrique Cardenas who was all alone against Christensen for the tap in.
Rookwood would have another shot on a header in the 37th minute, but it sailed over the net and the Mavs had a two-goal deficit at half time. The Anteaters may have been up 2-0, but UNO had 7 shots in the first half and Irvine coach George Kuntz was anything but comfortable.
“I told them, really, it’s a one-nothing game,” Kuntz said. “If the penalty kick doesn’t occur, that’s a very tight game and can go either way. So the second half we were very apprehensive on how we’d come out.”
UNO came out somewhat aggressively, getting booked for two yellow cards in the first three and a half minutes. The Mavs also had three consecutive corner kicks in the 52nd minute, almost getting an own goal on the second.
There were some chances early but not late. UNO only compiled three shots in the second half and surrendered two more goals in the 62nd minute and the 72nd minute.
Enrique Cardenas put in his second to make it 3-0 and Lester Hayes III finished it off for a final of 4-0. Even though his team may have dominated on the scoreboard, Kuntz saw a lot he liked about the UNO men’s soccer program.
“I’m telling you their skeleton is good,” Kuntz said. “I like several of their players…I think there’s a lot of potential. They’re well coached; they came out better in the second half.”
“The first five minutes we couldn’t get a hold of the ball, you can see that’s a well-coached team.”
Despite the 4-0 loss, Sunday was still a historic day. Take out all the firsts and the real question was whether or not there would be any response for a men’s soccer team at UNO.
Though the loss stung a bit, coaches and players were most excited to find out that 1,647 fans had shown up for the inaugural home game. Having the choice between the two results Mims would have rather had the win come at home, but the coach thought it was still a special day.
Irvine also played on Friday and then traveled right away to be in Omaha for the game Sunday. It could have initially been an advantage, but the Anteaters are a top 20 team that can expose weaknesses no matter how much rest they’ve had.
“We had a lot of chances; they’re a great team,” said Maverick forward Logan Mendez. “I’m so proud of my guys, we always have chances, everybody has chances. Today just wasn’t our day to put it away.”
“We didn’t want to lose at home, but I feel as though are fans are not disappointed in us because we worked our butts off. They’re just a great team. Great teams are gonna play great, and today they showed up and it was their game, they won it.”