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It was a solid start to the year for the UCSB men’s soccer team as the Gauchos shutout Westmont 2-0 last night in their preseason opener.
Two first half goals from senior forward Reed McKenna and sophomore midfielder Drew Murphy proved to be enough for Santa Barbara as it took down the Warriors in its season opener for the eighth season in a row.
“The idea was to high press early on and just bring a lot of energy to the game, and that’s what we did,” senior forward Reed McKenna said. “We pounced on them early, we got a couple of opportunities and we were fortunate to put a couple in.”
The early preseason exhibition gave the Gauchos their first look at a new lineup that has five new players in the starting lineup and at least nine overall.
It didn’t take long for them to get off the mark in the new year as in the 12th minute sophomore midfielder Ismaila Jome pushed the ball up the middle before delivering a gorgeous through ball on the right side to McKenna. The senior’s initial one-time shot was saved by Westmont’s junior goalkeeper Josh Glover, but the rebound fell right back to McKenna who scored an easy goal after regaining his balance.
UCSB proceeded to dominate possession for the rest of the first half with the Warriors continually attempting to catch the Gauchos on the break with unsuccessful long balls. Jome and McKenna were the best players on the field as they continued to put pressure on the Westmont back four, sending in dangerous crosses on multiple occasions.
After Jome won a corner in the 25th minute, McKenna put in a cross from the left corner flag that found a sky-high Murphy placing a header perfectly into the bottom right corner of the net. The goal gave UCSB a 2-0 lead that would remain intact until the final whistle, but the chances were not done.
The second half told a different story from the Westmont perspective, as the Warriors tried to capitalize on several sloppy clearances and turnovers in play by UCSB defenders. However, sophomore goalkeeper Josh McNeely luckily didn’t need to record a single save on the night to preserve the shut out with Westmont attackers consistently missing the target on open looks.
“I think [the second half] was good. The game opened up and we had a ton of opportunities,” McKenna said. “It could’ve turned into 3, 4, or 5 but you’re not always gonna score all your chances. I thought it was good that we were getting chances and it showed that we have a lot of firepower going forward.”
The Gauchos found themselves with more than one great chance to score, most notably on a breakaway in the 72nd minute when sophomore forward Armand Bagramyan had his one-on-one shot saved by the keeper. Bagramyan had a team-high five shots, as many as the entire Westmont team, as he led a bench mob that played for much of the second half.
“I think we’re pretty far along,” McKenna said. “Obviously we have a group of 9 players coming in so it will take some time for them to get used to the college atmosphere and game but I think we’re ready to go down to South Carolina and perform well and win games.”
Next weekend will see UCSB travel to South Carolina to play the College of Charleston at 4:30 p.m. on Friday.