Coming off two straight lackluster offensive performances, the UCSB men’s soccer team turned things around this weekend with a 3-2 win against Fullerton and an impressive 2-2 tie against Irvine.
Friday night’s match featured two different Santa Barbara teams. In the first half the Gauchos were off-key and out of sync, while in the second half they came out firing and scored three unanswered goals to win the match.
UCSB’s usually reliable, mistake-free defense was absent in the first half, allowing two counterattack goals in the first 20 minutes.
The first came off a pass from Fullerton sophomore forward Hector Orellana to junior forward Brent Whitfield in the 15th minute. Orellana received the ball off a clear from the Titan defense and ran with it, knocking it to an open Whitfield for the goal. The UCSB defense never had a chance to get settled.
There was more of the same on the second goal, which came only six minutes later. This time Orellana did not provide the assist, but notched the goal instead. The assist was a well-placed pass by sophomore midfielder Jason Clifford.
As Fullerton celebrated, a look of dejection was growing on the faces of most UCSB players. They were understandably frustrated and it started to show. The Gauchos began some minor on-field bickering and their passes were not finding their marks. The half ended with the score at 2-0 as Santa Barbara entered the locker room.
What went on inside is anyone’s guess. Whatever UCSB Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said or did was on target as UCSB came out with renewed energy and vigor. The comeback would begin almost immediately.
Just two minutes and 57 seconds into the second half, senior forward Jaime Ambriz found junior forward Rob Friend for a low strike past Fullerton goalkeeper Jeff McKeever. And like that, the momentum switched to the Gauchos.
The forward tandem connected again with Ambriz sending a cross to Friend who recorded his fifth goal on the season with a head shot that went into the upper V.
“We knew it was slipping away after that second goal,” Orellana said.
For him, and Fullerton, it slipped just a little farther.
The third goal came off a cross by freshman defender Tony Lochhead, which reached Friend at the top of the box. Friend knocked the ball toward the goal, but it was freshman forward Drew McAthy who flicked it in. McAthy became the first Gaucho other than Friend to record multiple goals on the season.
Fullerton, which had been playing for the tie, was given a new purpose. The Titans were behind and now needed an equalizer. They began pressing on offense again but the Santa Barbara defense would not falter a second time.
“This is a good win for our guys,” Vom Steeg said. “I’m proud of the way they rallied in that last half.”
Sunday’s match with UCI was equally exciting. However, the goals in this game would come not from Friend or Ambriz, but from the defense.
A physical first half closed out at 0-0, with three Gauchos receiving yellow cards and nine Gaucho shots coming up empty.
But the second half would be a different story.
An Ambriz shot, which deflected off Irvine defender Brad Aspey, sailed wide but earned UCSB a corner. Sophomore midfielder Matt Kubota took the set kick and sent it to sophomore defender Neil Jones who finished it calmly with his head to the lower corner. The goal was Jones’ second on the year.
Irvine answered quickly. Two minutes later UCI junior midfielder Jesse Peron one-timed a Dardo Acuna cross into the back of the net. Acuna, a freshman midfielder, did not start the game but provided a timely pass to tie the score.
Anteater senior forward Jon Spencer struck next off a corner kick, which came from junior teammate Scott Bowman. Bowman’s pass was perfect and left Spencer with a shot from seven yards which he finished promptly. Spencer’s goal put the Anteaters up 2-1
And for a while the score remained that way. So long, in fact, that some fans began to leave. But in the 89th minute the Gauchos were granted a corner kick and senior defender Reuben Bates got his first shot on the season. He made it count, providing the equalizer shot for UCSB.
That’s not to say it was pretty though. The cross was deflected off several players including Ambriz and junior midfielder Aaron McAthy, who were both credited with assists. The assist was Ambriz’s third in two games. Bates tallied his first goal on his first shot of the season.
“Not bad,” said Bates, referring to his 100% shot accuracy on the season.
Not bad at all.
The goal knotted the score at 2-2 where it would stay despite 30 minutes of extra time. The win and tie for the first two decisions in conference play bolster the Gauchos’ overall record to 5-3-3.