The #9 UCSB men’s soccer team’s hope for a top eight seed in the NCAA Tournament took a blow, as the Gauchos ended the regular season with a 1-1 draw against UC Riverside at Harder Stadium Saturday night, in front of 3,833 fans.
Starting all six seniors on Senior Night, UCSB (12-3-4 overall, 9-1-2 in the Big West) saw its six-game winning streak come to an end after struggling to finish several quality offensive opportunities. Santa Barbara out shot the Highlanders (5-6-8, 2-4-6 Big West) 16-7, but only six of their shots were on frame.
“We know that we have at least a bye and a home game in the playoffs, so I’m not too disappointed with the result tonight,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “Riverside is a very hard team to play against, just like it was when we played them down there.”
In the 30th minute, the Gauchos drew first blood when sophomore midfield Jon Curry stole the ball deep in UCR territory. Curry’s cross into the box was deflected, but junior forward Nick Perera collected the loose ball, beating several defenders for his second goal of the season. The assist was Curry’s fifth of the year, tying him for third on the team.
With All-American senior defender Andy Iro on the bench after picking up a yellow card early in the second half, the Highlanders finally got the break they needed for the equalizer. Senior midfielder Steven Kaufman dribbled into the penalty box and was taken down by the UCSB defense and the referee awarded him with a penalty kick, which he knocked by freshman goalkeeper Bryant Rueckner to tie the score. The Gaucho defense was also missing junior midfielder Alfonso Motagalvan because he had accumulated four yellow cards and another would have forced him to miss Santa Barbara’s first playoff contest.
“I thought that we were impatient and dribbled too much,” Vom Steeg said. “Against a defense like this there is always six or seven guys behind the ball, so dribbling is less effective. They have the best goalkeeper in the conference and he made some big plays.”
UCSB now awaits Monday’s announcement of the seedings for the NCAA Tournament. Despite the disappointing result, the Gauchos have played some of their best soccer down the stretch, extending their unbeaten streak to seven. Santa Barbara has not lost in more than a month and has shown over the years that it knows what it takes to complete a dominant playoff run.
“This is disappointing, but its not the end of the world,” Iro said. “We just have to look forward and hope for a good seed.”