Under light rain and imperfect weather conditions, the No. 15 seed UCSB men’s soccer team put up a worthy challenge for No. 2 Clemson in the two teams’ Sweet Sixteen matchup on Sunday at Historic Riggs Field. After conceding two second half goals though, the Gauchos were knocked out of the NCAA Tournament by a final of 3-2.
Santa Barbara ends another successful season for the program with a 14-7-2 overall, 7-2-1 conference record.
The Tigers move on to the NCAA Quarterfinals for the first time in 10 years, improving to a mark of 17-2-2 on the season. They will host a No. 10 Maryland team coming off a 2-1 upset over No. 7 Notre Dame yesterday.
In a game which saw UCSB in control for much of the first half, it was the Gauchos who got on the board first. A deep cross sent in by freshman forward Cody Gibson was headed back towards the middle of the box by junior midfielder Josue Espana in the 39th minute. First to the ball was junior midfielder Seo-In Kim, who headed it home for his second goal of the season.
Much to the dismay of UCSB Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg, it didn’t take long for Clemson to answer back. Just minutes later, Tiger junior defender Aaron Jones came out of the midfield to beat several Gaucho defenders before blasting in a shot from 25 yards out to beat freshman goalkeeper Justin Vom Steeg, giving him the first goal of his career. The crucial equalizer came with just 57 seconds left in the half, sending the teams into the break tied 1-1.
The younger Vom Steeg, who was making his NCAA Tournament debut after missing last week’s matchup with South Carolina, was put under much pressure in the second half as the Gauchos were outshot 7-4.
Playing with more possession and control in the second stanza, the Tigers took their first lead of the game in the 69th minute off sophomore forward Diego Campos’s fourth goal of the year. Dribbling along the edge of the 18-yard box, Campos fired a shot in towards the top left corner of the net, giving Clemson its second long-range score of the game.
As has been the case multiple times this season, it didn’t take long for UCSB to respond to its second half concession. Just 49 seconds after going down, sophomore midfielder Kevin Feucht intercepted a back pass intended for the Clemson keeper to score his sixth goal of the year and tie it at 2-2. Feucht’s six goals this season were good for second-best on the team in just his first year at UCSB.
With the game anyone’s to win, it was Clemson redshirt senior Kyle Murphy who ended up scoring the decisive goal to break the deadlock in the 79th minute. A string of four straight first-time passes, the last of which came from sophomore midfielder Saul Chinchilla on a perfect cross in from the right wing, resulted in a tap in goal by Murphy from eight yards out to give him eight on the year.
UCSB matched Clemson with 12 shots on the night, but the Tigers put an efficient seven shots on target, resulting in four saves by Vom Steeg. Meanwhile, Santa Barbara was only able to get a third of its shots on frame, forcing junior goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell to make just two saves in the game.
The Gauchos’ year ends after making their seventh Sweet Sixteen appearance in program history and 13th postseason appearance in the last 14 seasons. They lose a group of seniors that includes All-Big West First Teamer Duncan Backus, starting center back Brandon Brockway, and midfielders Adam Carn-Saferstein and Christian Rodriguez.
Retaining key members of its core group, including juniors Nick DePuy, Ismaila Jome and Josue Espana, as well as young studs in Feucht, freshman Geoffrey Acheampong and sophomore Ahinga Selemani, UCSB will be a force to reckon with heading into the 2016 season as it looks to get over the hump and make another run for what would be its second NCAA Championship in school history.