With the help of a last-minute location change, the #13 UCSB men’s soccer team played toe to toe with one of the top teams in the country, earning a 1-1 draw against #11 Harvard at Harder Stadium on Sunday to win the Loyola Marymount Invitational.
Hosting the match after the originally scheduled field at LMU was deemed unfit for play, the Gauchos (3-2-2) netted the equalizer in the 75th minute off the head of junior midfielder Chris Pontius. It was the third time in the last four contests that Santa Barbara faced a ranked opponent, improving to 1-1-1 in the past three matches.
“We’ve yet to come across a team that’s better than us; the only team that is beating us is ourselves,” Assistant Coach Neil Jones said. “We have the talent to go pretty far this year, but the two issues right now are goal scoring and giving up stupid goals in the back.”
After limiting the Crimson (6-1-1) to only four shots in the first half, the Gaucho defense slipped up in the 58th minute when sophomore forward Andre Akpan was able to burst through the backline and lift a shot over oncoming freshman goalkeeper Bryant Rueckner. The goal was Akpan’s team-leading fifth, and he ranks 21st in the country with a 1.75 points per game average.
Sophomore midfielder Ciaran O’Brien had struggled with his corner kicks in the squad’s previous game against Columbia, but his attempt from the left side in the 75th minute found the head of Pontius, who netted his team-leading third goal of the year. Despite out-shooting Harvard 27-12, UCSB could not find the back of the net again. The assist tied O’Brien for the team lead with two assists.
“Ciaran is a very good player and he knows how a corner kick should be hit,” Jones said. “I’ve told him that he needed to take a little off [his corner kicks] because he was kicking it too hard and sacrificing the accuracy. If the ball is placed correctly, we have several guys who are good in the air, and he put it where he needed to.”
Friday, the Gauchos welcomed former Assistant Coach Leo Chappel, who is now head coach at Columbia, to Harder Stadium by demolishing his Lions 5-1. Senior forward Tino Nunez continued his stellar start to the year by beating the keeper in the 17th minute for his second goal, but freshman midfielder Hayden Johns knotted the game at one with a blast from 40 yards out in the 36th minute.
Santa Barbara responded before the end of the half, as junior forward Nick Perera slipped through the defense and his pass from the goal line found junior midfielder Alfonso Motagalvan in the middle of the box for the game winner. Senior forward Andrew Proctor sent UCSB into the locker room with a 3-1 lead by placing a shot from the left side perfectly into the upper right corner.
After increasing the lead to 4-1, Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg was able to rest his starters and clear the bench for the final 15 minutes of the match. Freshman defender Martin Hedevag tallied the final goal of the match seconds after checking into the game.
“Obviously I have strong feelings for both teams and its nice to come back,” Chappel said. “[UCSB] looks good and Tim will have them ready when it counts because they are so deep at every position.”
The Gauchos and LMU each finished with four points in the invitational, but UCSB took the title due to goal differential. Pontius was named the Offensive Most Valuable Player and freshman defender Michael Boxall was chosen as one of the two Defensive Co-Most Valuable Players, while junior midfielder Eric Avila and Nunez were selected to the All-Tournament Team.