Going into Saturday’s game, the UCSB men’s soccer team needed two things to happen to retain their Big West title. First, they needed to win. They won, defeating UC Irvine 1-0 in overtime on Saturday. Second, they needed Northridge to tie or lose. Unfortunately for the Gauchos, CSUN won as well.
“We did what we had to do, in terms of winning three in a row, hats off to them for getting the win they had to,” UCSB head coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “But for us, the goals been all year to get back into the playoffs and hope to make a run.”
The fashion in which the Gauchos won Saturday was as dramatic as they come. In the second minute of the second overtime, senior forward Gene Deering deftly put the Anteaters away with a turnaround steamer to silence the home crowd.
“It was nice to get that. I think [senior midfielder David] McGill played it across to [senior midfielder] Memo [Arzate] and I was able to turn on the back line and put it in,” Deering said.
The goal was the only one of the game as each team clenched tight on defense for 97 minutes. Both teams recorded 12 shots, while each goalkeeper saved four. Junior goalkeeper Danny Kennedy was untainted for the second straight game and the seventh time this season.
Deering, along with six other seniors, played in his final regular season match Saturday and certainly made the most of it. Deering, an aptly used reserve for the Gauchos, had been in the game for fifteen 15 minutes before striking.
“It’s nice going into the playoffs; it seems like we’ve fixed some of these problems we’ve had,” Deering said. “We feel pretty good about things. It would have been nice to win the big west but in the big scheme of things, it’s not all that important.”
This week, Santa Barbara’s second season arrives. The seedings for the NCAA tournament will be announced today at 1 p.m. on ESPNews, and the Gauchos will undoubtedly hear their name called for the second consecutive year and the second time in the history of the program.
Currently, UCSB is listed as the fourth best team on the West Coast which lends them to believe a first-round bye is warranted. Last year, the Gauchos were not issued a first-round bye and lost in the second round to Cal after dissecting the University of San Diego in the first round.
“I think we’ve put ourselves in a position to get a bye, based on our strength of schedule. One other criteria is how you finished and I think with getting back on track we’ve finished strong,” Vom Steeg said.
Just two weeks ago, things did not appear as peachy for the Gauchos after losing three Big West games in a row and struggling to keep any consistency up front and in back. Ironically, what has seemed to help the front and back is improvement in midfield. Junior Tony Lochhead played in the middle for the second consecutive game Saturday and set up Deering’s game winner with the initial cross to McGill.
“Yeah, three wins in a row – something’s going right. We’ve gotten back to basics,” McGill said. “We were getting ahead of ourselves, but whatever problem it was, I think it’s fixed.”