Some days, nothing goes right. The Gauchos just had one of those days. In front of a crowd of over 2,500 fans, UCSB blew two leads and squandered several opportunities on their way to a 2-2 tie with conference rival Cal State Northridge.
“It hurts,” junior forward David Walker said. And no, he was not just referring to the numerous battle scars he was sporting from the violent contest.
UCSB started off dominating the Matadors and capitalized in the eighth minute when Walker finished off a couple of beautiful passes from senior strikers Chris Pontius and Nick Perera. After receiving the ball while streaking down the right side, Walker put the ball past CSUN keeper Kevin Guppy to give the Gauchos an early lead. However, as would be a theme throughout the evening, the lead would not hold.
Just 10 minutes later, defensemen Alfonso Motagalvan and Martin Hedevag collided at the top of the 18-yard box, leaving Northridge senior midfielder Ben Cox wide open in front of the net. Not missing a beat (but possibly using a hand), Cox put his shot low and to the left, past a helpless Kristopher Minton. Minton, the Gauchos’ freshman goalkeeper, had nothing to do but watch the ball fly past him after the defensive breakdown.
“Communication is a big key for us,” said Minton, echoing the theme of the year for UCSB. “Once we get it together on defense, we’ll be set to make a big playoff run.”
Unfortunately for UCSB, that day has yet to arrive. Santa Barbara’s offense would strike again, though, on Pontius’ ninth goal of the season. Perera received a ball in the box and somehow managed to maintain possession through two swarming Northridge defenders. Instead of turning and shooting, he laid a perfect ball for Pontius on the far post, and the Gauchos’ co-captain rolled the ball past the ill-positioned Guppy to regain the UCSB lead.
The score would remain 2-1 throughout the remainder of the half, despite several good opportunities by UCSB. One of these was a gorgeous overhead no-look pass from Perera to Walker, which the junior promptly finished. Unfortunately for the Santa Barbara faithful, Walker was called offside and the goal was discounted.
The start of the second half would prove to be a continuation of UCSB’s dominance, but things changed abruptly in the 61st minute. After Minton initially punched out a corner kick, Northridge continued their pressure and played another ball into the box. The Gauchos’ keeper skied for the punch again, but this time he came down hard and did not come up.
“That whole sequence is a little blurry,” Minton said. “And I still have a headache.”
Needless to say, having a keeper writhing on the ground is a bad position for any defense to be in, and it ended up costing UCSB. After a couple failed clearance attempts, CSUN junior forward Milan Radovic put the ball into the unguarded net and tied the score.
For the remainder of the half, UCSB looked like the better team but was unable to score again. Several times in the final minutes of the second half it looked like the Gauchos were going to put in the go-ahead goal, but they were never able to close the deal.
At the end of regulation, an odd series of events left the Gauchos without a midfielder and an assistant coach. After freshman Danny Barrera got a yellow card for delay of game in the final 10 seconds, he got a second one and, subsequently, a red card for jumping within 10 yards on a Matador free kick with three seconds left. The Gauchos, who were livid about the call, were credited with a second red card to Assistant Coach Neil Jones – apparently for words exchanged with the referee.
Despite being a man down, UCSB continued to dominate the game in the two overtime periods, but failed to capitalize on a few excellent opportunities. Sophomore forward Bongomin Otii, as well as Pontius and Hedevag, missed great chances to give UCSB a victory in overtime.
“Bodies and legs get tired,” Motagalvan explained. “Your finesse and the way you finish the ball… It’s not the same because you’ve been running for 110 minutes.”
When it was all said and done, the two teams had almost identical statistics in terms of shots, shots on goal and corner kicks. But the unrecorded opportunities really told the tale of the game. Santa Barbara was consistently outperforming Northridge but still could not come away with the win.
After the stalemate, UCSB’s record moves to 6-3-2, while CSUN’s goes to 5-4-2. UCSB’s next test will be another home match, Saturday against UC Davis at 7 p.m. in Harder Stadium.