The UCSB men’s soccer team fought off both a heavy downpour and an underdog Riverside team Saturday night to clinch its second straight Big West title, winning 3-0 at UCR. With the win, the Gauchos remain undefeated in the Big West at 7-0-1 and improve to 15-2-1 overall.
“Obviously, it feels great. It was our number one goal coming into the preseason this year,” senior forward Rob Friend said. “But our focus is back on track; we have bigger goals, like getting into the playoffs and going as far as possible.”
Friend scored the only goal Santa Barbara needed for the win in the 18th minute, when he headed in a corner kick from junior midfielder Memo Arzate for his 16th goal of the year. The goal leaves Friend two behind former Gaucho Scott Grasinger for the all time Santa Barbara lead in goals scored. Arzate is also chasing history. With 16 assists this year, Arzate is just one behind the single season record set by former Gaucho Eric Price.
“Obviously it would be nice to have [the record], but it’s not what I think about going into the game,” Friend said. “Every opportunity I get, I want to finish it.”
Santa Barbara padded its lead in the 63rd minute when freshman defender Alan Keely scored his first goal of the year, driving the length of the field and scoring from 20 yards out to put the Gauchos up by two. Five minutes later, sophomore forward Matt Bly added the final goal of the night as he knocked in a rebounded shot from junior midfielder Matt Kubota. Saturday’s game was Bly’s second consecutive game with a goal. Goalkeeper coach Ryan Sparre made his coaching debut against Riverside. Sparre was filling in for suspended UCSB Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg, who received a red card against Cal State Northridge on Wednesday night.
“He did really well,” said co-captain and senior midfielder Dan Young. “He’s a laid back guy and didn’t try to over-coach us.”
The Gauchos thoroughly dominated the game, out-shooting the Highlanders 25-4. Riverside sophomore goalkeeper Alex Keough had 10 saves on the night, while UCSB sophomore goalkeeper Danny Kennedy posted his sixth shutout of the year, adding two saves. Kennedy is one shutout behind his career high of seven, set during his freshman campaign a year ago. Freshman goalkeeper Kyle Reynish finished off the final 12 minutes of the game for the Gauchos to help preserve the shutout.
“I don’t think [UCR] has much offensively, but our defense has been playing very well,” Friend said.
The 15 wins by Santa Barbara this year is the most by any Gaucho team since the 1982 squad went 16-2-4. With two wins in their final two contests, UCSB could set a new record with 17 wins in a season. Santa Barbara also has a chance to go undefeated in the Big West for the first time since the 1983 team who went 2-0-1 in their first year in Big West play.
“Most of us don’t really know about [the record]; Tim doesn’t bring up stuff like that,” Friend said.
UCR falls to 1-6-0 in the conference and 3-11-3 overall. Riverside has not scored a goal against the Gauchos in the last two years, with Santa Barbara outscoring the Highlanders 13-0 in the last four contests.
“We’re not content with sitting still; we don’t want anyone to sneak up on us and put us further down,” said Young.