There’s nothing like opening the conference season with a statement to the rest of the league, and that’s exactly how the #13 UCSB men’s soccer team kicked off their quest for a second straight Big West crown.
Santa Barbara (4-2-2 overall, 1-0 in the Big West) buried UC Davis 4-0 in the Aggies’ (5-2-1, 1-0) first official Big West match Saturday at Aggie Soccer Stadium in front of a sellout crowd of 1,040. The shutout was the Gauchos’ second of the year and extended their unbeaten streak to a season-high three games.
“We’ve been working really hard and training to play best we can, but this is only one game,” sophomore defender Chad Williams said. “We have to keep working and training hard.”
The usual offensive standouts jumpstarted the Gaucho offense yet again, as junior midfielder Chris Pontius netted the lone first-half goal 34 minutes into the game, after Davis senior goalie Brian Wickers failed to contain a rebound cleanly. The goal was Pontius’ team-leading fourth of the year, and he has found the back of the net in two straight matches. Junior midfielder Eric Avila was able to get by the keeper one-on-one 58 minutes into the game for his third goal of the season.
After serving several excellent crosses to his teammates over the past few games, sophomore midfielder Jon Curry found the net for the first time this season on a free kick from the top of the penalty box. Freshman defender Martin Hedevag tallied the final goal in the match’s closing seconds, his second goal in just six minutes of playing time this season.
“Scoring is not just a strikers thing, everyone needs to get into that space,” Williams said. “We’re all very talented and everyone has the ability to finish when they have a chance.”
The Gaucho defense made life easy for freshman goalkeeper Bryant Rueckner, who needed to make only three saves in his first Big West match. The Aggies played up to Santa Barbara’s physical style and each team finished with 14 fouls. Freshman defender Michael Boxall and senior midfielder Brennan Tennelle picked up yellow cards for UCSB, while junior midfielder Sule Anibaba earned one for Davis.
Scoring goals has not been much of a problem for Santa Barbara recently, as the squad has netted 10 goals in its last three contests. Five different Gauchos have now scored at least two goals, helping create a balanced attack that can strike from anywhere.
“Scoring goals comes with time, especially with the amount of opportunities we’ve been having,” Assistant Coach Neil Jones said. “As long as we’re patient the goals will continue to come.”