IRVINE — The UC Irvine defense was more than impenetrable in the men's soccer season opener against visiting Gonzaga Wednesday night. At least half of the Anteaters' four-man back line was also, well, indefensible.
Junior left back Jimmy Turner and senior center defender Joel Bagby each took some pregame advice from Coach George Kuntz to heart to help UCI claim a 4-0 nonconference victory that was more dominant than even the score would indicate.
Turner boomed a hooking shot into the upper right corner from about 30 yards in front just 85 seconds into the contest for his first career goal.
Bagby headed in a chip from junior midfielder Miguel Ibarra not quite three minutes later to virtually put the game away in less time than it takes to fill an order at Starbucks.
It was also the first career goal for Bagby, who, it turns out, was simply following pregame instructions.
"We gave up a couple bad goals in our preseason scrimmage at Cal," Kuntz said. "So, I told our defenders before the game to think like attackers."
The constructive words were meant to give his back-liners the right mindset to maintain optimal positioning against Bulldogs attackers. But, as it turned out, there was a more literal meaning.
"I said before the game that if defenders think more like attackers and attackers think more like defenders, we'll have a good chance to win," Kuntz said. "So [Turner and Bagby] got their first career goals, and when they came off the field, they said 'Coach, you told us to think like attackers.' "
The attack continued as senior forward Amani Walker scored in the fourth minute of the second half.
And, with most of the starters already cooling their heels on the sideline, junior Christian Hernandez added the final tally in the 83rd minute to give the Anteaters, ranked No. 20 in the College Soccer News preseason poll, an auspicious opening.
The 4-0 triumph was the biggest margin of victory in at least three seasons and the Anteaters amassed a 21-3 advantage in shots.
Junior goalkeeper Andrew Fontein was not required to make a single save to post his 10th career shutout.
Ibarra, an All-American last season at Taft Community College, had two assists in his UCI debut.
Senior forward Spencer Thompson, who took a team-high six shots, shared the assist with sophomore midfielder Zach Olow on Walker's goal.
Freshman Christopher Santana and junior Navid Torabian collected assists in the capper.
Walker and Hernandez finished with four shots apiece, as UCI controlled the ball almost exclusively.
Gonzaga had only one solid scoring chance, but senior forward Nick Love directed a through ball over the crossbar from about 10 yards in front late in the opening half to allow UCI to keep the Bulldogs at bay.
"It was nice to have a shutout; really important to get the doughnut," Kuntz said.
But, predictably, it wasn't defense Bagby and Turner were most anxious to talk about afterward.
"I've scored a few playing club soccer, but it feels great to score my first college goal, finally," said Turner, who had just one shot in his two previous collegiate seasons.
Added Bagby, who had seven shots last season: "It really felt great [to score]. It's something I've been trying to focus on. It's nice being tall and decent in the air, but I just haven't gotten off the mark. I finally got my noggin on one today. [Ibarra] did all the work and I got the glory for that one. Hopefully that's just the first of a couple I can contribute this year."
Bagby, however, was willing to talk about his team's defense.
"We were frustrated with the way we played against Cal [a 2-1 loss Saturday in Berkeley]," Bagby said. "We made a couple mistakes and we really focused on correcting those for tonight's game. It was definitely better. Our goal is perfection and we can get there. I really think we can."
If it wasn't quite perfection, it didn't give Kuntz much with which to quibble.
"I was pretty happy," Kuntz said. "That's a young team that we played tonight. But given that, I think we'll take it. It was a really good confidence builder for our team. It was a long drive home from Cal the other day and we were disappointed. We sorted out a lot of that. We had a videotape session and basically some soul searching."