Nobody said it had to be pretty.
In fact, the two 1-0 victories for the UCSB men’s soccer team this weekend were downright ugly. But with the wins, Santa Barbara moved into first place in the Big West with 16 points. Second place Irvine has played one less game and is two points behind the Gauchos, meaning an Irvine win next game would give them the conference lead.
Friday night’s game began with starting freshman goalkeeper Dan Kennedy and senior midfielder Steven Sosa, each returning from a one-game suspension received after the Gaucho loss to Northridge two games earlier. But the team was without sophomore defender Neil Jones.
“I’ve been feeling under the weather,” Jones said. “And I’ve got this swelling in my leg that’s just been bothering me.” Jones did not suit up against Northridge and watched Sunday’s game on crutches.
Without Jones in the back, UCSB Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg started sophomore defender Kevin Maffris and senior defender Galen Donaldson. Maffris had not started a Big West home game until Friday as he had spent the majority of the season hampered by a leg injury.
The Northridge match began with UCSB in control. The Gauchos came out with energy and junior forward Rob Friend had two chances to score in the same minute but could not convert either. Three minutes later he got another chance and the third time was the charm.
Friend received a through ball 40 yards from the goal and took it all the way into the box, past two defenders, and finished a shot into the left side of the net. He scored unassisted.
The first half closed out 1-0 with Santa Barbara having taken 5 shots while keeping Northridge from firing a single attempt.
Friend’s goal was all that UCSB would need to hold off Northridge, but the second half brought on a different kind of action. In a span of four minutes, four cards were shown to the teams, two of them reds. Matador forward Charles Mitchell was the first victim. He was shown a red for a hard foul against Gaucho junior midfielder Dan Young.
Sophomore forward Gene Deering was next to go. He leaped for a header and landed on a Northridge midfielder. It seemed unintentional, but Deering was shown a red card nonetheless.
The game just got uglier and more physical. Northridge managed to fire their first shot in the 70th minute and added on two more, but could not squeeze a goal past Kennedy. With the win, Santa Barbara improved to 4-1-1.
“We fought hard for this one,” Vom Steeg said. “It’s always nice to avenge a road loss back here in Harder Stadium.”
Sunday’s match with Riverside was even more unsightly. The Gauchos were without Friend, who had received his 5th yellow card against Northridge, Deering, Jones, Young, and freshman defender Peter O’Hare, whose finger injury kept him from suiting up.
The single Gaucho goal came off a well executed cross by freshman defender Tony Lochhead. The pass found senior forward Jaime Ambriz who had not yet scored in conference play. He finished the cross with an easy header.
Santa Barbara out shot the Highlanders 16-3 and moved to 5-1-1 on the season. Riverside continued its free fall, dropping to 0-14-1 on the season and 0-7 in Big West play. With only three games left to notch a win, Highlander defender Cory Craig summed up the UCR season in a single word.
Thankfully for the Gauchos, this weekend they were on the giving end of the unpleasantness.