The 12th-seeded UCSB men’s soccer team got going early Sunday, but could not hold on late as fifth-seeded Ohio State left Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium with a 4-3 double overtime victory to advance to the NCAA Quarterfinals.
The Buckeyes (15-3-5 overall) overcame a 3-1 second half deficit to advance to the fourth round for the first time in school history, ending the Gauchos’ (13-4-4) bid to repeat as national champions. Questionable officiating for each side handed UCSB a total of 23 fouls to Ohio State’s 21 as the teams combined to earn seven yellow cards.
“I don’t think we necessarily played well, but it got us three goals,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “I thought we finally settled into the game in the second half, but the issue all along was that everything is dangerous in the box and it was wet out there and anything can happen.”
Four days after taking an early lead against Washington (9-8-4) in the second round, UCSB’s attack got going quickly once again. After a Buckeye foul, sophomore midfielder Ciaran O’Brien’s free kick curved toward the left post and senior goalkeeper Casey Latchem was able to make a diving save. However, Latchem could not contain the rebound and junior midfielder Alfonso Motagalvan knocked it home for the 1-0 lead.
The lead lasted for 20 minutes until Ohio State – a dangerous team on set pieces – took advantage of a UCSB foul 30 yards out. Senior defender Eric Brunner blasted a hard show that barely lifted off the ground to the front post, beating freshman goalkeeper Bryant Rueckner for the equalizer.
The Gauchos retook the lead seven minutes later on a phenomenal free kick from O’Brien near midfield. O’Brien’s lob came down right at the mouth of the goal and Latchem was able to get a hand on it, but Brunner’s attempted clearing header went into the back of the net for a goal, giving UCSB a 2-1 lead.
UCSB’s offense kept rolling as junior forward Nick Perera – last season’s postseason hero – made a splash with his first touch of the game after coming into the match to start the second half. Perera collected the ball on the right side on a feed from O’Brien and fooled his defender to clear enough space at the top of the box to fire off a shot, pushing Santa Barbara’s lead to 3-1.
“I felt that the longer we could keep the game 3-1 we’d be good,” Vom Steeg said. “In a game like this I don’t think any lead is safe for either team.”
With only 25 minutes remaining in the best season in Ohio State history, the Buckeyes began to go to work. In the 66th minute, Ohio State caught a break when senior defender Andy Iro was thrown to the group near the corner flag, but the referee awarded the Buckeyes with a corner kick instead of calling the foul. Ohio State took advantage of one of its seven corner kicks of the day when the Santa Barbara defense failed to clear it out of its defensive end. Rueckner came out to play the ball and was unable to punch it out, leaving senior forward Eric Edwards open to send home a loose ball in the penalty box to cut the deficit to one.
Four minutes later the Buckeye offense was at it again, thanks to another Gaucho foul. Brunner took a free kick from just outside the top of the box and sent it into a huge UCSB wall, but the ball somehow got through and then past Rueckner to knot the score at three. The goal was Brunner’s sixth of the season and the sixth goal of the game off a set piece. Each squad had several more opportunities in the contest’s final 20 minutes, but both defenses held their ground to send the game to overtime.
In the first overtime period, Motagalvan came up with a huge defensive play, saving a shot and clearing the ball from the goal line after it had slipped behind Rueckner. Sophomore midfielder Jon Curry had Santa Barbara’s best offensive chance in overtime, collecting a cross and rocketing a left-footed shot that just missed the near post.
The Buckeyes made the most of their best opportunity of the second overtime, as Edwards and sophomore forward Andrew Magill took off on a two-on-one against senior defender Greg Curry. On the final defensive play of his college career, Curry stepped toward the onrushing Magill, who laid the ball off to his right for Edwards, whose shot was blocked by Rueckner. The rebound bounced right to the feet of Magill, who sent his team to the Elite Eight with the game-winner.
“It’s disappointing because in my four years this is the best team I’ve played on,” Iro said. “At the same time I’ve been to two finals, a Sweet 16, and have a national championship. Someone’s got to lose.”