In a season resembling a jagged heart rate monitor, it was only appropriate the 2003 UCSB men’s soccer team’s inaugural Sweet 16 game against St. John’s University was filled with emotional peaks and valleys.
To the devastation of Santa Barbara, though, the roller coaster ride came to an ever-abrupt halt Sunday. With 4:02 left in the second overtime of a 2-2 game, the Red Storm’s Ryan Kelly scored the game-winner on a cross, ending the Gauchos’ furthest-ever NCAA Tournament run.
“It was very tough. I didn’t feel, at any time, we were going to lose that game,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said.
The two teams arrived in overtime after junior forward Drew McAthy temporarily saved the Gauchos’ season with a clutch header off senior midfielder David McGill’s shot from the right side.
To the misfortune of the Gauchos, the game was not without controversy. Before the whistle blew to end the first half of play, it appeared that senior midfielder Matt Kubota had scored on a corner kick from junior defender Tony Lochhead, but due to miscommunication between the referee and the timekeeper, the play was disallowed on a judgment call by the referee. Needless to say, the call had the UCSB coaching staff and players reeling, but the referee ran off the field before an argument could be made.
“In any game you play, you have to have a whistle or a horn to end play, and we scored before the whistle,” Vom Steeg said. “The referee made a judgment call, but there should have been no judgment.”
Vom Steeg would have considered playing the game under protest, but the NCAA representative who was supposed to be present to make the ruling was not in attendance.
The play served as a gigantic momentum swing to the favor of St. John’s. Just three minutes after halftime, the Red Storm took the lead when forward Simone Salinno scored his 13th goal of the season.
The Gauchos still had enough will and heart to send the game into overtime, despite the circumstances – staples of a team that went 16-5-1 and deeper into the playoffs than any UCSB team in school history.
To do so, UCSB had to cross paths with Cal, the team that handed the Gauchos their second-round exit last year. This time proved to be quite different. In front of the home faithful at Harder Stadium, UCSB struck with some secret weapons. Freshman defender Jeff Murphy netted his second goal of the season to give the Gauchos an early 1-0 lead.
To add a little security to their lead, Lochhead pounced on junior defender Jon Apilado’s pass and fired into the back of the net. The assist was Apilado’s second of the night. Murphy’s goal came off senior midfielder Memo Arzate’s cross that was deflected by Apilado.
The loss at St. John’s marks the end of several lucrative collegiate careers. Arzate leaves UCSB as the all-time leader in assists in the Big West, while McGill has contributed 24 career assists (second all-time) to two of the best teams in the history of the program.
“I’m not sure you replace Memo or McGill. You look at the game and you try to play differently. You’re not going to see another player like Memo at UCSB in a long time,” Vom Steeg said. “We’re losing our whole midfield. I call it losing your engine.”
Kubota, forward Gene Deering and midfielder Darren Doi, four-year letter-winners and key components to this year’s run, will also be sorely missed, as the Gauchos will try to reload to make a run at next year’s College Cup.