The message from UCSB Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg was clear: either put up or shut up.
By benching junior forward Drew McAthy, Vom Steeg sent a challenge to his whole team, McAthy in particular. Fortunately for #20 UCSB, one of the nation’s premier scorers responded in grandiose fashion.
Knotted at 1-1 in the second minute of overtime, McAthy intercepted a cross with his head from senior midfielder Memo Arzate, launching it past the outstretched arms of San Francisco goalkeeper Geremy Uhl.
“It was only a matter of time before Drew was going to get a goal,” senior captain Dave McGill said. “He’s a goal scorer, that’s what he does.”
The win was anything but aesthetically astounding. The two teams battled in the miserably muddy conditions, the result of Friday night’s downpour.
“I thought with the conditions it was really a toss-up game. It wasn’t the best team to play given the conditions,” Vom Steeg said. “They were very big and physical, especially in the box, and the game plan was to keep the ball on the ground and fortunately Drew was able to get that goal.”
With the win, the Gauchos nipped their two-game losing streak, the longest in two years.
“It was very important. We haven’t lost three games in a row for about four years now,” Vom Steeg said. “There’s nothing like picking up a win like that.”
The game could have gone either way and it appeared that the Dons had the upper hand going into halftime, having prevented the Gauchos from taking a single shot. All of Santa Barbara’s 11 shots came in the second half and overtime, while the Dons accumulated 15 shots on the night.
Ironically, Santa Barbara’s first goal came on its very first shot, a feat that is otherwise uncharacteristic of these recent Gauchos. Just three minutes into the second half, McGill floated a cross to senior forward Neil Jones who netted his 11th goal with his noggin.
“It was definitely important for us to get this win and get back on track,” junior goalkeeper Danny Kennedy said. Kennedy and the defense in front of him allowed the Dons’ sole goal in the 57th minute when forward Matt Languis capitalized on a Santa Barbara mishap and fired a shot past Kennedy to set the stage for overtime.
Now at 12-3-1, UCSB is one step closer to earning a large playoff berth should they not take the Big West, not to say that the Gauchos aren’t the favorites for the conference championship.
“The win is very important because each win goes a long way for the playoffs. If you look, there’s not too many teams on the West Coast right now with 12 wins, but in our opinion, we need to pick up at least two wins,” Vom Steeg said.
The home stretch of Big West play begins this Wednesday as UCSB travels to Cal State Northridge, where they haven’t won since 2000. The game has the potential to shake up everything, as it should decide the fate of the Big West. Northridge, with 10 points, sits two points behind UCSB and one behind Irvine.
Needless to say, it’s anybody’s crown for the taking.