Maybe missing their anchor hurt them more than they thought.
Playing without All-American senior defender Andy Iro, the #10 UCSB men’s soccer team allowed early goals in both halves, falling to Cal Poly in a battle of first place squads. A record 7,143 fans cheered the Mustangs (9-1-1 overall, 4-0-1 in the Big West) to their first win over the Gauchos (6-3-3, 3-1-1 Big West) in their last 12 tries.
“Both their goals came off balls that were played into an area that Andy [Iro] would normally occupy,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “Where they were dangerous was when they were flipping balls into the box. Having him out prevented us from making many adjustments [in other places].”
After a tremendous week in which UCSB was named to the College Soccer News National Team of the Week, freshman forward David Zamora continued his stellar play early. After forcing freshman keeper Bryant Rueckner to make a difficult save minutes in, Zamora earned a free kick at the top of the box in the 16th minute. Zamora curled a shot into the upper right corner for his fifth goal.
Cal Poly seemed headed to the half with the advantage, until the Gauchos got the equalizer thirty seconds before the whistle. Sophomore midfielder Ciaran O’Brien was able to find the head of sophomore midfielder David Walker to knot the score at one. O’Brien was the most active UCSB attacker and topped the stat sheet with four shots, three of which he put on frame.
Late goals have been a plague to the Santa Barbara defense, but this time the backline faltered right out of the locker room. Junior striker Anthony Grillo received a long ball from freshman midfielder Tim White in the box and netted his first goal of the year. The Gaucho defense recovered and denied the Mustangs further quality chances, holding Cal Poly to seven shots on the night.
“It’s been a recurring theme all season,” Vom Steeg said. “Whether it’s the first five minutes or last five minutes of a half, we struggle. The irony is we were talking about coming out strong for the first ten minutes right before the start.”
UCSB suffered another blow to their defense late in the contest when freshman defender Michael Boxall picked up his second yellow card of the match in the 89th minute. The New Zealander has already missed one game after accumulating too many yellow cards and will now miss Saturday’s road trip to UC Riverside.
Cal Poly will surely jump into the rankings with the upset after hovering just outside the polls in recent weeks. After totaling three conference wins last year, the Mustangs are now looking down at the rest of the Big West from above and are off to the best start in program history.
“They played their best game of the season,” Vom Steeg said. “No matter where we play we get other team’s best efforts. That’s a tough place to play when you’re playing in front of 7,000 people.”