Winning at Indiana is no easy task. The Hoosiers (4-2-2), currently ranked 10th in the country and holders of seven national titles, rarely lose in Bloomington. Coach Tim Vom Steeg and his skidding Gauchos knew what they were up against going into Saturday night’s game — a game that had the potential to make or break the season. With a huge amount riding in the balance, UCSB delivered arguably its strongest performance of the season in defeating the Hoosiers 2-1 in front of a solid crowd of 2,404.
The win is Santa Barbara’s most important this season, and could not have come at a better time. UCSB, coming off a 6-2 thumping at the hands of Wake Forest, needed a confidence boost in a huge way.
“It’s huge,” senior forward Nick Perera said. “A lot of the young guys hadn’t seen what it’s like to win at a place like Indiana. I think they’re really learning what it takes to win a championship.”
The scoring started early, when freshman midfielder Bryan Dominguez found senior Alfonso Motagalvan on a corner kick, and the co-captain put it in the back of the net. The goal was Motagalvan’s first of the season, and it came in a game where he had been moved from his usual midfield position to the back line. Dominguez got an assist credit — his fifth of the year.
Indiana started applying pressure and almost equalized just moments later, but redshirt freshman goalkeeper Kristopher Minton came up with a huge save to keep the Gauchos ahead.
Vom Steeg called it a “critical save” and gave it some credit in determining the game’s eventual outcome.
“That save really helped to pump up the team,” Vom Steeg said. “It really helped to give [Minton] confidence.”
Minton, who was starting only his second game of the season in place of freshman Trond Helge Takset, had a spectacular match. He came up with four crucial saves and kept the Gauchos in control.
Indiana continued to press Santa Barbara throughout the first half, but UCSB would score again with just 12 seconds to go until halftime. Junior defender Jon Curry and senior forward Chris Pontius ran the counterattack offense brilliantly, and Curry’s pass was on the money for the Gauchos’ leading scorer. Pontius notched his seventh goal of the season by heading the ball in from five yards out, and UCSB took a 2-0 lead into halftime.
Call the goal instant karma. Just last week against Wake Forest, UCSB gave up a game-altering goal to the Demon Deacons in the last minute of the first half, shifting the momentum at halftime and contributing to the 6-2 fiasco.
“Because of the Wake Forest game, we made a very concerted effort to not let in a goal in the last five minutes of a half,” Vom Steeg said. The goal, he continued, was “an accident.”
The game would change in the second half, however, when junior forward David Walker was issued a red card for allegedly stepping on an Indiana player. This left the Gauchos shorthanded with only ten players from the 73rd minute on, and the talented Hoosiers would capitalize.
Late in the 88th minute, IU midfielder Andy Adlard took a pass from defenseman Rich Balchan and rolled it past Minton and into the net. But the goal would prove to be too little too late, as UCSB was able to kill the last two minutes without incident and pull out a 2-1 victory.
UCSB won despite being out-shot 21-7 by Indiana on the match. However, these stats are padded by numerous desperation shots from long range by the Hoosiers, who only had five shots on goal all game.
“We’re going to have ups and downs,” Vom Steeg said. “But it speaks well for us going forward that we were able to go on the road and beat Indiana.
“The question is if we can not be on a rollercoaster and put together another good game at UCLA.”
If UCSB expects to beat the Bruins on Wednesday, they will likely have to do it with a very depleted front line. Walker will have to serve a one-game suspension for his red card, and Perera is still questionable with his knee injury.
But in a season that has already had its highs and lows, UCSB can take pride in a momentous victory over a very solid IU squad. For now, the Gaucho faithful can only hope that things will stabilize and that the team plays at the level they are capable of from here on out.
Santa Barbara’s next game is scheduled for Wednesday, October 1 at UCLA. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.