Somehow, someway, the UCSB men’s soccer team keeps finding ways to win.
The #9 Gauchos (11-3-3 overall, 8-1-1 in the Big West) were dominated by Cal State Fullerton for the first 75 minutes Saturday night at Titan Stadium, but rallied late for a 2-1 victory, clinching their second straight Big West title and securing a spot in the NCAA Tournament. The win was Santa Barbara’s third-straight in come-from-behind fashion, and its fifth-straight overall.
“I’m very pleased and I’m excited for the players,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “We were able to finally bounce back. Last year we would go down in a game and not have a response, and this year, it’s the exact opposite.”
The Titans (7-9-2, 2-6-2 Big West) controlled the tempo throughout the first half, out shooting UCSB 10-4, and took a 1-0 lead in the 65th minute when sophomore defender Shay Spitz netted his team-leading fifth goal on a pass from senior defender German Moreno right in front of the goal. Things looked bleak for the Gauchos, as the squad struggled to build anything offensively. That is until Santa Barbara finally woke up.
Senior defender Greg Curry pulled down sophomore forward Gabriel Farfan from behind in the 74th minute, leaving UCSB with 10 players for the rest of the match. The ejection lit a fire under the Gauchos, who finally got the ball rolling. Less than a minute later, sophomore midfielder David Walker fired a shot from the top left of the penalty box that was deflected and looped into the upper right corner for the equalizer.
After scoring three goals in five minutes in their last contest against Cal Poly, the Gauchos again quickly found the net for the second time. Sophomore midfielder Ciaran O’Brien bent a corner kick from the left side perfectly to junior midfielder Alfonso Motagalvan at the front post, who knocked it in for the game-winner, his fourth goal of the year.
“The way we came back is a sign of a good team,” Curry said. “I think Fullerton came out here and played really well against us at home, and they put on a good show. We just gutted it out and got a couple of good chances and put them away.”
Santa Barbara has two regular season matches remaining, beginning this afternoon when it travels to face Cal State Northridge at 1 p.m. before closing the season Saturday at Harder Stadium against UC Riverside (5-6-6, 2-4-4 Big West). The last time UCSB took the pitch at Matador Soccer Field, the Matadors (6-6-6, 2-4-4 Big West) handed the Gauchos a 5-0 loss, the worst the squad has had in the Vom Steeg era.
The Mustangs (10-3-4, 5-2-4 Big West) and UC Davis are tied for second, six points behind Santa Barbara. At least a tie in one of their final two games will give the Gauchos the outright conference title. Regardless of how the squad fares this week, UCSB is headed to the playoffs again, where it has already shown what it is capable of.