The UCSB men’s soccer team hadn’t scored more than a single goal since Sept. 6 against San Diego State. So when the Gauchos went into the half down 2-0 against Fullerton last Friday, the team needed more than ever to break that streak. They did, winning the game 3-2. UCSB junior Rob Friend was involved in every goal.
For Friend’s performance he earned Big West Co-Player of the Week, sharing honors with Irvine’s Jon Spencer, a player who scored a goal against the Gauchos in their 2-2 tie on Sunday.
The game against Fullerton showed two sides of the Gaucho team. The first half showed a team that couldn’t connect the last pass or get back fast enough on the counter attack. So they went into the half down.
Yet the second half was a complete turnaround. Santa Barbara came out with offense and with energy and scored within the first three minutes.
The first goal came off a pass by senior forward Jaime Ambriz. Ambriz found Friend for a lower left hand corner shot that put the Gauchos closer at 2-1.
The next goal was an Ambriz cross that floated perfectly to Friend’s head. The goal tied the game and the momentum switched over to Santa Barbara.
For the winner, Friend tallied the assist. Freshman defender Tony Lochhead sent a cross to Friend and he flicked it to freshman midfielder Drew McAthy for the goal.
“Rob is one of the best player I’ve seen with his back to the goal,” UCSB Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “He brings a lot of high level experience from the Under 23 Canadian National team. It gives him a lot of composure.”
Senior defender Reuben Bates agreed with his coach.
“He’s our go-to guy on offense, like our offensive spark,” he said.
Friend has won a Big West Player of the Week award before. That series of two games was an early season stretch when Friend notched two assists and a goal.
UCSB Assistant Coach Leo Chappel perhaps summed up Friend most succinctly: “He’s an exceptional soccer player.”
The reinvigorated second half Gaucho offense halted a 252 minute scoreless drought. The next game they scored two more, but in that contest the goals came from defenders Bates and Neil Jones.
Santa Barbara hopes to continue its recent success against Big West foes Cal Poly and Northridge this coming Friday and Sunday. They will need to keep that level of offensive intensity to do it, and if the Gauchos can continue conference play like they’ve begun it, they should have no problems finishing the season at or near the top of the Big West.