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Late Penalty Lifts UCLA to 2-1 Win Over UC Riverside

Sep 25, 2021
Pietro Grassi (photo: Wilson Ramirez-Castro)

LOS ANGELES – Behind an 86th minute penalty conversion from senior forward Kevin Diaz, the UCLA men's soccer team recorded a 2-1 victory over UC Riverside on Saturday night at Wallis Annenberg Stadium.

The Bruins (6-2-0) dominated large portions of the match – particularly over the first 30 minutes – but had to rely on the late go-ahead score to put away the Highlanders (5-3-0). UCLA has now won three straight, and six of its last seven, after the result.

"We have to be a little more clinical and we have to continue to grow, but I thought our football in the first half hour tonight was fantastic," said UCLA head coach Ryan Jorden. "We put ourselves in a lot of good positions and moments, but you have to score the goals. I thought our guys were really resilient defensively – as UCR got some life from their goal – to keep them at arm's length outside of set pieces."

UCLA applied consistent pressure on the UCR defense from practically the opening whistle, with a first-minute shot from Riley Ferch representing the opening salvo in a 30-minute barrage by the Bruins. UCLA had myriad chances to score early on – in particular, Grayson Doody shot just over the bar in the 16th minute and Diaz was able to get a shot off from close-range in the 23rd minute – but found the back of the net just once, on a solid individual effort from redshirt freshman Tucker Lepley at the 16:01 mark.

With the Highlanders on the ball in their defensive third and the Bruins pressing, Lepley picked off a pass about 45 yards from goal. With plenty of room to run, Lepley advanced towards the UCR goal without a defender on him. A Highlander defender tried to stand Lepley up at the edge of the box, but Lepley instead ripped a left-footed shot from the penalty arc that ended up just inside the far post. It was his third goal of the year.

Though the Bruins continued to have a monopoly on scoring chances, the Highlanders found a way to level it after converting on a long set piece in the 28th minute. The play started about 50 yards from goal, with Carlos Zuniga sending in a ball to the box. From there Roberto Garcia-Vargas headed it from the right post back across the goalmouth, where Leopoldo Hernandez was waiting at the opposite post to poke it in with a header.

The shot was UCR's first of the game, and one of just two for the visitors in the first half. Zuniga shot wide right in the 33rd minute to record his team's lone shot in the run of play for the opening 45 minutes.

The game began to level out in the second half, with both teams creating scoring chances.

UCR was the first team to create a Grade-A chance in the second stanza, and it came once again off a free kick. Similar to their goal, the Highlanders played a long ball into the box in the 78th minute that was ping-ponged from near the right post back towards the center of the box that led to a pair of shots. However, UCLA keeper Justin Garces was up to the task and made a pair of saves in quick succession to keep the score tied, first a dive to his right to deflect a low volley from Jonick Pineda, then a clutch stop on a rebound attempt off the initial shot as the Highlanders tried to jam the ball in from inside the six-yard box.

In the 86th minute, UCLA produced the go-ahead and game-winning goal. Like Lepley's opener, the play started off a turnover, with freshman right back Aaron Edwards stepping up and picking off a pass in the midfield to spring a counter. Making a run towards goal, Edwards was tripped up and brought down just after entering the 18, and was granted a penalty shot.

Diaz stepped up and nailed the spot kick, shooting low to the keeper's left. It was his second goal of the year, and fourth of his UCLA career.

The Highlanders had just one more look at net before the final whistle, a Zuniga shot in the 88th minute that was easily turned aside by Garces.

After playing seven-of-eight games at home to start the season, the Bruins hit the road next week for a pair of Pac-12 games. UCLA is scheduled to face Oregon State on Thursday, Sept. 30 at 6:00 p.m., followed by a matchup at Washington on Sunday, Oct. 3 at 3:00 p.m. The Pac-12 Networks will televise both contests.