RIVERSIDE – Leo Mendez made an impression in what could be his final Crosstown Showdown.
Mendez scored a goal in the 80th minute as the California Baptist University and UC Riverside men’s soccer teams played to a 1-1 draw at a packed UCR Soccer Stadium on Saturday night.
“It was a really good goal from Leo,” CBU coach Coe Michaelson said. “He scored a direct hit to equalize for us.”
It was the 10th collegiate goal of his career for the King High School graduate as CBU (2-4-2 overall) scored a late equalizer in the programs’ first meeting since qualifying for the NCAA Tournament last year.
“No matter how the individual teams do, it’s always a tough game,” said Mendez. “It’s a rivalry game where everyone gets out.”
Mendez still has one year of eligibility left, but said he will consider his options as a professional player after this season.
“My first choice is to play football and pursue my dream,” Mendez said. “I still have a year left, but I’m not sure if I’ll take it anymore. We’ll see how it goes this season.”
Edward Castro scored his first career goal for UC Riverside (0-6-2) in the 50th minute when he ran onto a through ball from Jona Martinez and finished it at the far post.
“Coach (Tim Cupello) tells us to score more runs, so I try to do that to create more options for the team,” Castro said.
Castro transferred from Mt. San Antonio College and previously played with the LA Galaxy Academy and the Guatemala U17 national team.
“It’s great to score, but it would have been better if we had won,” Castro said.
CBU dominated possession in the first half and was able to repel a close-range shot attempt by UC Riverside goalkeeper Carlos Gonzalez in the 33rd minute.
Neither team had another shot on goal until Castro fired it past Lancers goaltender Nolan Premack about five minutes into the second half.
CBU responded with two shots on goal in the next 10 minutes. Both were turned away by Gonzalez, including a narrow save from a long-range attempt in the 58th minute to parry a shot that was curled towards the back post, which delighted the sell-out crowd.
“Not our best, but we were able to fight back,” Michaelson said. “I’m not going to say, ‘We deserved to win.’ But we definitely deserve to get level and if we stay consistent we will probably go home with a win.”
Cupello made a wave of substitutions as the Highlanders, playing at home for the first time since their season opener on August 24, held on to their lead in the second half.
“It’s just nice to be home,” Cupello said. “We’ve been on the road for weeks and to be back in front of our fans in a rivalry game and show some resilience is something we can build on.”
Both teams received two yellow cards in the second half as referee Joseph Salinas took control of the physical play between the crosstown rivals.
Technical skill triumphed over brutal tactics as Mendez received the ball at the top of the penalty area, turned, took two touches with his right hand and fired a right-footed shot into the net before Gonzalez could react.
“I opened up the space, took touch of the ball and shot it into the top corner,” Mendez said.
It’s the second tie in seven meetings all-time since 2005. UC Riverside has a 3-2-2 lead in the series.