After a special pre-game introduction, seniors Sam Hayden, Michael Boxall and Joe Eubanks took the field on senior night and imposed their will on UC Riverside, taking home a 2-0 victory on Saturday at Harder Stadium.
“Our focus for last night was defense, especially after the last time at Riverside,” Boxall said. “We moved the ball well defensively and we were a lot more fit than them, and Silva put away two great goals.”
The first of those came in the 57th minute as freshman forward David Opoku dropped off a ball for Silva inside the box, where he was able to slip it just inside the right post for the game winner.
“The first half we didn’t connect as much,” Silva said. “I think we should’ve put them away in the first half, but that’s how soccer is. In the second half I think we did a better job of making runs at the box.”
After the game winner, the defense took over, allowing Riverside just four shots. “We emphasized getting behind the ball and we went over how they scored their goals last time,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “I knew we would play better here than we did down there anyway. I’m not surprised we got the shutout tonight; we’ve been playing well in the back and developing defensively so it’s just a continuation of that.”
The victory brings UCSB to 11-4-3 overall and 7-2-1 in the Big West, good for a second-place finish in the conference and a #2 seed in the conference tournament this week when it plays Cal Poly at home on Wednesday. The reigning Big West champs had a chance to repeat, but UC Irvine took down Cal State Fullerton 3-1 for the regular season crown.
“The bottom line is last year we went 8-1-1 and this year we went 7-2-1,” Vom Steeg said. “I always think you need seven or eight wins to take the conference and this year Irvine did enough. Any time we show up anywhere it’s going to be a difficult game. We know we’re getting the best of the teams we’re playing against and I think it’s always harder for us to win league.”
“If you told us [we didn’t win the regular season title] at the beginning we wouldn’t have been happy with it,” Boxall added. “But the way things have gone, we’re pretty satisfied now having Cal Poly at home on Wednesday and looking forward to Irvine if they hold up against Fullerton.”
Saturday’s match also marked the night in which Gaucho spectators shattered national attendance records. The 5,103 at Harder brought the stadium’s average attendance to 6,451, breaking the previous record of 4,355 that UCSB set last year.
Goalkeeper Hayden also inked his name into the record books, needing only one save as he tallied his 24th career shutout, placing him third on the all-time Gaucho list.
The Big West Championship tournament begins Wednesday, with Cal Poly coming to Santa Barbara to try and break the teams’ 1-1 split in matches this season. The last meeting between the two was on Oct. 27, a 2-1 overtime loss for UCSB in front of national television cameras at Cal Poly. This time, the new setting could give the match a new feel.
“We’re going to see a much different game compared to at Cal Poly because the size of our field plays into our hands,” Boxall said. “It makes their jobs a lot harder because their field is built for the way they play, as ours is for us, so we’re excited to make Cal Poly run a lot more and hopefully get the win.”
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. on Wednesday. If UCSB wins, they will take on the winner of UC Irvine v. Cal State Fullerton on Saturday.