What are the chances of the #1 UCSB men’s soccer team earning a high seed in the NCAA Tournament? Golden.
The Gauchos got a 1-0 win in double overtime at UC Irvine on Friday, on a golden goal from senior forward Neil Jones. With the regular season over, UCSB now can only wait for the NCAA selection committee to decide its playoff fate.
For the second time in four games, the Gauchos (17-2-1 overall, 8-2-0 in the Big West) rode Jones’ foot to victory. Jones also scored the game winner in double overtime against Davis on Nov. 4. The Gauchos are undefeated in overtime matches this season, picking up four wins and one tie.
“It starts with our fitness, and fitness means we’re fresher at the end of the game. We also have a very deep bench. We’re able to bring some players onto the field who maybe don’t start but are still good players,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “This is a very committed team to winning a game.”
In the 103rd minute, senior forward Drew McAthy brought the ball down the left flank to the corner, then played it out to senior defender Tony Lochhead in the middle. Lochhead put a hard pass into the box for Jones, who was waiting about 15 yards out. Jones placed the ball inside the right post past Irvine goalkeeper Cameron Rossi to give the Gauchos the win.
The goal was Jones’ 10th of the season and his second-straight overtime game winner. With the assist, McAthy became the most prolific scorer in UCSB history, earning the 114th point of his career, surpassing Scott Grasinger’s record for most points in a Gaucho uniform.
“We stayed tough defensively, and as long as you are able to do that you can continue to give yourself the ability to create scoring opportunities and put one in,” Vom Steeg said.
Once again, the defense controlled the back half for UCSB. Senior keeper Danny Kennedy made just two saves en route to his 11th complete game shutout of the season, tying Bob Tuler’s 1978 record. After allowing the Anteaters eight shots in the first half, the Gaucho defense gave up just five during the final 60 minutes of play.
Jones was bound to score eventually; he led the team with eight of its 21 shots on the night. UCSB had numerous opportunities throughout the game, but could not put one past Rossi, who made eight saves to keep Irvine in the game.
With their Big West title and #1 national ranking in hand, the Gauchos now wait to find out whom they will play in the NCAA Tournament. The team will gather today at Zodo’s Bowling and Beyond to watch the selection special at 1:30 p.m.
“Anything in the top four is really what we’re looking for [today]. Whether you come out one, two, three or four doesn’t really matter in soccer. The difference between four and five is bigger,” Vom Steeg said. “If we get a #1 seed it would be really shocking because I don’t think anyone in a conference such as ours has ever gotten a #1 seed. We’re just looking for a top-four seed, because then we have home games as long as we’re winning.”
A top-four seeding would guarantee the Gauchos a first-round bye and, more importantly, home field throughout the playoffs.
“I think we’ve done all we can do to get a top-four seed,” McAthy said. “If it doesn’t happen, it’s nothing that we won’t be able to handle.”