On a night when the offense needed some help, the defense for the #12 UCSB men’s soccer team stepped up as the Gauchos beat Cal State Fullerton 1-0 at Harder Stadium on Saturday night.
Junior midfielder Chris Pontius, who notched a hat trick in Santa Barbara’s (6-2-2, 3-0-0 in the Big West) last contest, headed in his Big West leading eighth goal in the 78th minute off a cross from junior midfielder Alfonso Motagalvan to help the Gauchos stay on top of the conference standings. Pontius has now netted a goal in each of UCSB’s last four matches and is responsible for six of the last 10 Santa Barbara goals.
“Nights like this we need our defense to play well if we’re not finishing,” Pontius said. “It’s nice to know that we don’t have to put [the] ball in the net four times to win, especially at home.”
The shutout was the third straight for the Gauchos, who have outscored league foes 9-0 through the first three conference games. UCSB limited the Titans (4-5-1 overall, 0-2-1 Big West) to ten shots and freshman goalkeeper Bryant Rueckner needed to make only three saves. The squad has five shutouts on the year – three at Harder Stadium – and improved its home record to 4-1-1
The Gauchos had several chances to get on the board early in the game but were unable to break through against senior keeper Brent Douglas. Senior striker Tino Nunez had one of Santa Barbara’s best early chances in the 21st minute after breaking through the Titan backline and also set up a scoring opportunity for senior midfielder Brennan Tennelle in the first half. Nunez led all players with six shots.
“I’m playing the point more than before instead of playing with two forwards so I’ve been able to try to find people making runs through [opposing defenses],” Nunez said. “I feel like I can do that well and help create some chances.”
Sophomore midfielder Ciaran O’Brien had one of the best Gaucho chances of the second half when his blast from nearly 40 yards out on the right side nearly got by Douglas. Santa Barbara could only muster five shots on goal in the match, but the defensive trio of All-American senior Andy Iro, freshman Michael Boxall and junior Kyle Kaveny kept UCSB in the match. The Gauchos have not allowed a goal in 322 minutes and have allowed more than one goal in a match only twice.
“When you’re given chances early in the game and you don’t put them in, you’re going to have a war,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “Three weeks ago we would have lost that game.”
The Gauchos return to the pitch this Wednesday when they visit Cal State Northridge (4-2-3 overall, 0-2[]-2 Big West), before returning home to take on UC Davis (6-2-1 overall, 1-1-0 Big West) on Saturday night at Harder Stadium. The Aggies, who lost their Big West opener to the Gauchos 4-0 last week, picked up their first ever conference win this weekend.