It is always disappointing when an undefeated streak comes to an end, but that was certainly the case Friday night when the No. 8 UCSB men’s soccer team fell to No. 22 Cal State Northridge 3-2 in a dramatic Big West Semifinals match. The loss snapped an 11-match undefeated stretch for the Gauchos and eliminated them from the conference tournament.
Santa Barbara falls to 12-5-3 with the loss while Northridge stands at 15-6-1 following a 1-0 defeat to UC Irvine in the Big West Championship game. The NCAA selection show will air Monday morning at 9 a.m., and it is expected that both Northridge and UCSB are selected to participate in the NCAA Tournament along with automatic qualifier Irvine.
“It will be very helpful if we can still get a seed because that would mean we aren’t playing on Thursday,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “I’m shocked if we go from eight to past 16 on a loss to a top-20 RPI team. I don’t see it, but we’ll find out on Monday.”
There was no shortage of dramatics in Friday’s match, particularly in the second half. The first half of the match was scoreless, and quite the opposite of the firework filled second half.
Northridge started the scoring spree when junior forward Sagi Lev-Ari sent a header into the back of the net in the 58th minute. For Lev-Ari, it was a career-night as he registered a hat trick, extending his season goal total to 16 on the year.
UCSB quickly responded, however, as sophomore defender Marshall Cazares scored in the 64th minute off an assist from freshman forward Ismaila Jome. Senior midfielder Goffin Boyoko then gave the Gauchos the advantage with a beautiful free kick from 20 yards out in the 72nd minute.
“We battled back and I thought we did what we did all year, which is compete,” Vom Steeg said. “I think if we stay right with 11 players, we win the game.”
A second yellow card to junior defender Kevin Garcia-Lopez on a handball left UCSB shorthanded in the 73rd minute, opening the door for Northridge.
Lev-Ari responded with a penalty kick goal in the 78th minute and another header in the 83rd to give the Matadors the victory.
Santa Barbara will be without Garcia-Lopez as well as freshman midfielder Drew Murphy in its next match. Both players must sit out for receiving red cards during Friday night’s contest. Cazares was also injured during the game but is expected to return in time for the Gauchos’ first NCAA Tournament match.
“It’s frustrating. It’s like watching a train wreck and you can’t stop it,” Vom Steeg said of the red cards and Northridge’s comeback.
The top 16 teams in the tournament are given a first-round bye and host a second round match, meaning UCSB would receive more time off in an effort to rest injured players including senior forward Achille Campion and senior defender Peter Schmetz, both All Conference First Team Selections.
“What’s critical is to not have to play on Thursday,” Vom Steeg said. “And that gives us until next Sunday to see about Campion and to see about Schmetz.”
UCSB finds out its destiny Monday and is expected to play either Thursday or Sunday in the NCAA Tournament.
A version of this article appeared on page 5 of November 18, 2013’s print edition of The Daily Nexus.
Photo by Peter Vandenbelt of The Daily Nexus.