In what is becoming a familiar sight, last night the UCSB men’s soccer team pulled out its third straight 1-0 victory, this time over defending Big West champion Cal State Northridge. The win puts the Gauchos one step closer to recapturing their first league title since 2004.
Santa Barbara (11-6-0 overall, 6-2-0 in the Big West) had the match’s first quality scoring chance in the sixth minute when freshman striker Bongomin Otii found sophomore midfielder Eric Avila at the top of the box, but Avila shanked a shot wide of the left post. Junior forward Andrew Proctor had his share of early opportunities as well, just lofting a chip shot from the left side over the crossbar and blasting a rebound opportunity over the goal.
But with 19 minutes left in the first half, senior midfielder and co-captain Bryan Byrne split two defenders on the right side and dribbled for the goal line. The Irishman dropped a pass to Avila at the top of the box near the front post, who then blasted a shot past Matador sophomore keeper Kevin Guppy for the difference-maker.
“As soon as [Byrne] split the two defenders, I was sitting at the top of the box and I was wide open and hoping he would send it to me,” Avila said. “I was looking at the back post and hit it, but the ball slipped and went to the near post.”
For a team that has been struggling offensively with only five goals in its last five contests, the early lead helped relieve pressure from both the offense and defense.
“I don’t think this year we’ve ever come back when we’ve been down, so to get that first goal gave us some confidence so we can relax a little bit,” senior keeper Kyle Reynish said. “We had to get out of here with something but a loss.”
The Matadors (5-6-5, 3-2-3 Big West) pressured the UCSB back line throughout the second half, outshooting the Gauchos 12-3 and earning six corner kicks to the home squad’s one. The ball was constantly in Santa Barbara’s end in the final 10 minutes as Northridge took several corner kicks and free kicks, but the Matadors failed to truly test Reynish.
“I felt Kyle came up big when he had to, but I think it was a pretty easy but nervous night for him,” junior defender Andy Iro said.
The shutout was the fourth straight and tenth of the season for a Gaucho defense that once again showed why it is the best defensive club in the Big West. The win was the first for UCSB over the CSUN since the 2004 season.
“At this point in the season we are a disciplined team,” UCSB Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “It’s taken us some soul-searching and a lot of bad games before this team decided that they didn’t want their season to end four games ago.”
Santa Barbara next takes the pitch next Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Irvine, in a game that will likely decide who is crowned Big West champion.