A tough season for the UCSB men’s soccer team didn’t end any better as the team dropped its final game of the season 1-0 to Cal Poly.
The Gauchos finish their season in fourth place in the North Division at 10-6-3 overall and 4-5-1 in the Big West, marking the first time since 1991 that Santa Barbara has finished its Big West schedule under .500 and only the second time under Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg. After winning nine of its first 11 games and earning a No. 3 ranking, UCSB dropped six of its final eight games.
Cal Poly improves to 11-6-1 overall and 6-3-1 in conference, securing second place and the final playoff spot in the North Division. UCSB dropped both Blue-Green rivalry matches this season for the first time since 1997.
“Last night was a really tough loss,” junior midfielder Fifi Baiden said. “We were hoping to beat Cal Poly, our rival, and get revenge, but no matter what happened, our season was done.”
With the Mustangs needing just a tie to advance to the Big West playoffs, Cal Poly played a cautious first half. They didn’t pressure the Gaucho defense but controlled the tempo, making the match a possession game.
“They had like 10 guys behind the ball, and whenever we got a ball, they made sure everyone dropped back,” Baiden said. “They needed a tie or win for them to go to [playoffs], so why risk it?”
The Mustangs continued to control the ball in the second half, dominating UCSB. They kept the ball on the Gauchos’ half of the field, which finally resulted in a goal.
In the 77th minute, redshirt junior midfielder Mike Hocker chipped a ball from midfield into UCSB’s penalty area. Sophomore goalkeeper Austin Mansker came off his line but could not control the ball, leaving a wide open net. Senior midfielder Chris Gaschen ran down the ball and passed it to junior midfielder George Malki, who shot across the six-yard box and into the back of the net.
“It was an easy ball for Austin to get and I don’t know what happened, but he dropped it and one of their players picked it up,” Baiden said. “It was a goal that came from nowhere.”
The goal was Malki’s fourth of the season and second against the Gauchos this year. He also scored the equalizer with just over a minute remaining in regulation at Harder Stadium nearly two weeks ago.
“He’s always in the right spot at the right time,” Baiden said. “He’s a good player, but he’s scored both goals on a scramble.”
UCSB was outshot 10-6, including 3-1 on shots-on-goal, marking only the second time this season the Gauchos took fewer shots than their opponent. The second half was the difference, as Santa Barbara took just one shot in the second half, compared to Cal Poly’s six. The Gauchos’ lone shot on goal came in the first half on a shot from senior forward Dion Acoff in the seventh minute.
“We knew we weren’t going to have that many chances,” Ryan said. “We knew we were going to have to capitalize on our opportunities and unfortunately, we were unable to.”