Whoever said the third time’s a charm never saw the Gauchos in a playoff game.
The UCSB men’s soccer team did not disappoint a crowd of over 3,400 Saturday night at Harder Stadium, winning its first ever playoff game in dramatic fashion, 2-0 over the University of San Diego.
“Obviously, it’s hard to express in words what it felt like tonight on the field,” UCSB Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “The crowd was great, the energy was great on the field. I felt like we were really prepared for what was going to happen tonight, so I think we just had to make a couple adjustments at halftime. But otherwise, everything that we thought was gonna happen, happened tonight.”
The Gauchos got the crowd on its feet early on when senior forward and two-time Big West Offensive Player of the Year Rob Friend scored his 20th goal of the year and put the Gauchos up 1-0 in the fifth minute of the game. Friend collided with a USD defender and senior goalkeeper Parker Jarvis after receiving a pass from junior forward David McGill. Jarvis and the defender both stumbled to the ground, and Friend was able to put away the shot.
“The defender was a lot smaller, and the goalie was too,” Friend said. “I collided with the goalie and the defender, but I knew if I could stay on my feet the ball would pop up, which it did, and fortunately I put my head down and put it in the back of the net.”
The assist on the game-winning goal went to David McGill, who frustrated the Toreros most of the night.
“Not so nice of a fellow Irishman to do that, is he. He’s a cheeky little bugger,” USD Head Coach Seamus McFadden said. “It’s soccer, and he played well. I thought we were chasing the game towards the end and there was a tackle there that I thought was a foul. I thought that was a big call there at the end of the game, or should I say, a big no-call.”
But the first goal never would have materialized without impressive plays from UCSB sophomore goalie Danny Kennedy and sophomore defender Tony Lochhead. USD had an opportunity to take the lead when Kennedy came out of his net to stop the Torero rush. Kennedy was successful and Lockhead was able to clear the ball to McGill, stalling the San Diego opportunity.
“They played very well; you have to tip your hat off to them,” McFadden said. “We had our opportunities to score but sometimes where there’s a will in soccer, there’s not always a way.”
The score remained 1-0 for the next 81 minutes as both teams missed opportunities to score. Sophomore midfielder Matt Bly broke the Toreros’ back with under three minutes left in the contest when he made the score 2-0, on his fourth goal of the year. Friend found senior midfielder Brandon Meeks in the middle of the field on the play. After drawing the defense to him, Meeks sent a pass to Bly who, much to the joy of the Gaucho faithful, put away the game clincher.
“It’s great to have the support of the fans. Jeff said there was about 3,400, but it seemed like a whole lot more than that. There must have been people sneaking in or something,” McGill said. “The crowd was great. They cheered and it really gets you going; you really want to play well. It adds an extra 10 percent to your play, wanting to do well in front of the crowd.”
The Toreros did not go without their opportunities. With a little less than 10 minutes to play, San Diego had its best opportunity to score when the ball was loose in the box for 30 seconds before it was finally cleared. Four Torero players had chances to score, but the UCSB defense along with Kennedy stayed solid.
“The ball’s bouncing around and you’re trying to get a hand or get anything on it. We did and we got the best of it,” Kennedy said. “The ball bounced our way a little bit tonight, but we’ll take that any night.”
The game ball went to the Gaucho defense. Santa Barbara has not allowed a goal in its last 365 minutes, and has now tallied four straight shutouts. Big West Freshman of the Year defender Alan Keely, senior midfielder Dan Young and Lochhead, along with the rest of the team, all put in phenomenal performances in their first ever playoff win. Young matched up against San Diego’s star forward Ryan Coiner the entire night, completely shutting down USD’s star.
“Dan is a very, very smart soccer player and after about 15 minutes, he saw what Coiner was about a little bit,” Vom Steeg said. “I felt that as the game went on, Coiner became more frustrated, and I thought Dan kept playing better and better.”
Santa Barbara will play at 1 p.m. at Cal on Wednesday in its second-round matchup. The winner will face the winner of the Marymount/UCLA contest.