By Jeff Gibson
Santa Barbara men’s soccer Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg’s strategic preparations for last night’s second-round NCAA Tournament match against #1 Southern Methodist University allowed the Gauchos to grab the Mustangs by the reigns and cruise to a 3-1 upset victory.
In what could have easily been a blowout in favor of the Gauchos (14-7 overall), Santa Barbara was able to post 16 shots on goal while holding #3 seed SMU (17-2-4) to only eight – most of which came in the final desperate minutes of the game. Santa Barbara’s success was aided in large part by the offensive and defensives schemes that Vom Steeg employed, as the Gauchos were able to post three goals on an SMU defense that only allowed 11 in 22 games all season.
“We came out with three strikers, and we did some interesting stuff in the backfield, too,” Vom Steeg said. “I don’t even know what you’d call it. It was the only way to keep [the Mustangs] off.”
After 20 minutes of play dominated by the Gauchos, unguarded sophomore forward Nick Perera found an open goal after receiving a pass from sophomore midfielder Eric Avila. Santa Barbara’s first strike was equalized by SMU eight minutes later when the Mustangs capitalized off a quick inbound play and an off-guard Gaucho defense. With less than five minutes to go in the first half, Santa Barbara answered. A Gaucho corner kick at the 43:12 mark eventually found freshman midfielder David Walker in the box, who headed it in for the score.
Carrying the lead into the second half, the Gauchos’ offense was quelled by SMU goalkeeper Matt Wideman, despite a two-on-one scoring opportunity for the Gauchos in which Wideman made two crucial saves before Perera’s final shot hit the post, bouncing out of bounds.
“The score could have been a lot higher, but [Wideman] is definitely a good shot blocker,” senior midfielder Bryan Byrne said.
With 24 minutes to play, Byrne was cut down in the SMU box, but was not awarded a penalty kick by the referee. The Gauchos were not fazed, however, as a string of passes from junior defender Andy Iro, Perera and Byrne found their way to the Mustang box, only to be deflected by a Wideman save. Byrne handled the ricochet, sending it back to Wideman whose second deflection was fielded by Perera only to be blocked by Wideman for the third straight time.
The Gauchos eventually found success after a cross from Byrne drew Wideman out from his goal and found a wide-open Avila who knocked it in for the score.
“We got a great performance out of everybody,” Vom Steeg said. “You have to, in order to play like that.”
Santa Barbara was able to hold off the Mustangs for the remainder of the game, despite drawing 25 fouls to SMU’s 11. Three yellow cards were also given out, all to the Gauchos.
With the upset, Santa Barbara will move on to play in the third round of the NCAA tournament, facing off against Old Dominion in a Sweet 16 bout Saturday at 4 p.m. in Norfolk, Va.