The Big West season finally started for the Gauchos on Saturday, and they did not disappoint. UCSB came from behind to win 2-1 against a fiery UC Irvine squad, handing the Anteaters their first loss of the season. As if that was not hard enough, Santa Barbara was forced to do it while shorthanded for 43 minutes.
“It sets the tone for the season,” junior forward David Walker said. “It really gets things going — gives the guys a little taste of what we have ahead of us.”
The scoring started early for the Anteaters, when Spencer Thompson rolled a slow pass through to a stunting Carlos Aguilar and into the box. The ball somehow found its way through the UCSB defense and Rafael Macedo got a solid foot on the ball and put it past Gaucho freshman keeper Kristopher Minton and into the back of the net.
However, UCSB would respond later in the first half. Senior forward Chris Pontius laid a perfectly lofted through-ball for fellow senior Nick Perera, who found himself in front of an open net after a UCI miscommunication. Anteater goalkeeper Andrew Fontein came out to pick the ball up but collided with his defensemen, resulting in the ball popping behind them both and to an open Perera, who quickly finished off the opportunity.
“What everybody’s finding out is that we can score goals,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “It’s hard to keep us from getting at least a couple per game.”
UC Irvine would learn that lesson the hard way, despite getting a huge break early in the second half. Santa Barbara freshman Peter McGlynn got ejected for picking up two yellow cards in less than two second half minutes, and all of a sudden the Gauchos found themselves shorthanded for the remainder of the game. However, that was the point when things really turned around for UCSB.
“It was a different team from the first half,” Vom Steeg said. “Even being a man down we dominated play– we created most of the chances… We just went to a different level”
Perera concurred. “It demanded something of us that we hadn’t been called upon to do all year,” he said. “[Being a man down] demands more from each individual… it’s sort of a crisis situation.”
The Gauchos responded to their newfound predicament by dominating the second half, out-shooting the Anteaters 10-3 in the second half. However, it was not until the 83rd minute that UCSB finally took the lead. Danny Barrera drilled a perfect corner kick to the far post, and senior co-captain Alfonso Motagalvan picked up his third goal of the season by heading it past Fontein and into the goal. The score would prove to be the game winner, as the Gauchos held on to win 2-1.
“I really felt like we earned the win,” Vom Steeg said. “If we can just bring that energy level every game, both halves, we’re going to be very hard to beat.”
The final shot count for the game was 16-9 in favor of UCSB, including a 10-4 disparity in shots on goal. The Gauchos’ record improves to 6-3-1 overall (1-0-0 Big West), while Irvine falls to 7-1-3 (0-1-1 Big West). UCSB’s next match will be at Harder Stadium at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, when the Gauchos take on Cal State Northridge.