After freshman forward David Opoku’s three-goal promise yesterday, the Gauchos had no choice but to deliver. In a rematch of their toughest loss of the season so far, Gaucho soccer (5-3-2 overall, 2-1-0 Big West) came out strong, and made good on that promise to defeat Cal State Fullerton (2-6-2, 1-2-0) by a score of 3-0.
The match was choppy from the start, though, with 26 fouls committed by both teams — including four yellow cards and three reds — one of which came against UCSB senior defender Michael Boxall. After landing on a Fullerton forward, he will now have to sit out the squad’s next match against Cal Poly.
“The bottom line is when somebody goes under your feet, everybody jumps because where are you going to land?” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “Whether or not he really meant to land on his arm, it’s right in front of their bench in a game that’s gotten really heated. It’s dumb, it’s stupid. There’s no other way to explain it. Justified or not, it doesn’t really matter because it was enough to get a reaction.”
Most of the scoring action came in the first half for UCSB, with junior forward Joe Eubanks putting in a cross from sophomore forward Michael Nonni in the 36th minute. Less than a minute after that, sophomore forward Sam Garza scored an unassisted insurance goal into the high left corner past Fullerton’s goalkeeper.
“It feels so good, seriously,” Garza said. “We knew we were going to get shots against them, knew it had to be clinical and we had to finish our chances. To be honest, we could’ve had five or six more goals. The finishing could still be a little better I think, but that’s just going to come with time and working on it every day in practice like we have been.”
Scoring twice in the first half was a major relief for Vom Steeg, who saw his team shoot 22 times in its last match against Fullerton and fail to get one past the keeper.
“It’s nice to get two goals in the first half, it took a weight off our shoulders because of the fact we haven’t been doing that,” Vom Steeg said. “This game started out just the way it did the first time we played them where we had some good crosses and their goalie makes two unbelievable saves, which is what he did down in Fullerton. It took two really good goals.”
This time, the Gauchos had 31 shots to Fullerton’s six, with 15 of them on goal. Aside from the opening minutes of the second half, the Titans never had a chance. Three of those shots came off the foot of Opoku, who had made the pre-game guarantee of three goals.
“It was very good today,” Opoku said. “I was very frustrated because I wasn’t able to score a goal, but it was a very good game. It was a push, it was a challenge.”
Another Gaucho standout was junior defender James Kiffe, who had the team’s only second half goal, and four shots on goal of his own.
“[Kiffe] is a very, very good attacking player,” Vom Steeg said. “He’s kept improving. He plays against good players every single game. I’m not surprised by what he does going forward, he does that in practice all the time. Our issue is whether or not he can defend well enough to play left fullback, and he’s certainly doing that. Tonight was a good game for him.”
The Gauchos have no time to rest as they turn around to play Cal Poly on Oct. 12, with a nationally televised Duke match coming after that. For the team, these might be some of the most important all year.
“The biggest week of the season is coming up,” Vom Steeg said. “I feel like in every season there is that week, and this is the week.”