There is no such thing as a sure thing.
Going into last weekend’s game, the players on UCSB men’s soccer team knew they needed a win to remain in contention for the Big West title. Especially since Irvine, Santa Barbara’s closest foe, battled cellar-dweller Riverside, which lost 11 in a row and did not pick up a win in either league or overall play.
The Gauchos handled their side of things nicely, putting down Cal Poly 5-1. But what happened elsewhere was more surprising.
Despite 26 shots in 120 minutes, Irvine could not score against the Highlanders, who snapped the 11-game losing streak with a 0-0 tie.
“We’re disappointed,” Irvine Head Coach George Kuntz said. “Of course we’re disappointed. When you’re in a position to win conference and you tie a team who hasn’t won yet this season, it’s nothing to be proud of. I take nothing away from Riverside though; they played well. I’m just saying we should have put them away with all the chances we had.”
Much of the credit for the tie rests on Riverside goalkeeper Brent Bentley, who needed to record a staggering 11 saves to record the shutout.
UCR Assistant Coach Junior Gonzalez couldn’t be happier with Bentley. “He really stepped it up against Irvine. I was, well, very impressed.”
After their first positive result since Sept. 9, the Highlanders went on to trounce Cal State Fullerton 4-1. They went 1-0-1 on the weekend after going 0-14-1 on the year.
The Gaucho win was complete with the usual superb defense. Senior Reuben Bates, Sophomore Kevin Maffris, and freshmen Tony Lochhead and Nate Boyden have held down the back during the last three games in the absence of sophomore Neil Jones, who is out with an injury. The back four have allowed only a single goal in the last four games, which came in last Friday’s victory.
Santa Barbara’s offense was found against Cal Poly, when they punched in five goals. Junior midfielder Dan Young scored the match’s first goal in the 25th minute off a Lochhead corner. His goal was the sole score in the first half.
The second 45 mintutes were a different story. Junior forward Robert Friend scored two goals in the first 15 minutes, increasing his overall tally to nine. Senior forward Jaime Ambriz and sophomore midfielder Darren Doi each assisted one Friend goal.
“Whenever you get a player like Rob, who’s played at that higher level [referring to Friend’s Canadian national team starts], he brings poise and experience to the team,” UCSB Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “He’s an exceptional player.”
Boyden scored the fourth UCSB goal, while sophomore forward Gene Deering added the final score with only six seconds left in the match.
With the win, the Gauchos control their destiny. If they win out, they win the Big West. A tie against Irvine next Friday, coupled with a victory over Cal Poly, would produce the same result. In fact, all that Santa Barbara needs is a win over Irvine to secure the title, as both the Gauchos and the Anteaters have pulled far away from the other Big West teams.
Settling for anything less than two more wins is not in UCSB Assistant Coach Rick Barker’s game plan. Two more wins could mean a trip to the NCAA playoffs.
“The Big West is a new conference, so there is no automatic bid,” he said. “If we win out, we’ve definitely got a chance to get in.”