It was a rough week for UCSB men’s soccer.
Coming into the week as the #16 team in the country, the Gauchos were looking forward to playing in front of the friendly crowds at Harder Stadium against Big West competition. Historically, it would have been a pretty safe bet that UCSB would win both games. Since 2004, Santa Barbara was on a 17-0-3 streak against current Big West teams at home.
So it was a bit odd Wednesday when UCSB battled Cal State Northridge to a disappointing 2-2 tie. However, that result looks downright positive when compared to Saturday’s 2-0 dismantling by UC Davis. The Aggies were fired up from the start and played fantastic soccer throughout, and UCSB was never able to answer.
To make matters even weirder, this home loss was a shutout. Santa Barbara, as a general rule, does not get shut out. In fact, UCSB had been better than any team in the country at getting on the board prior to the loss, riding an NCAA-high 31-game streak. That record, as well as the Big West home game unbeaten streak, has vanished.
“[We had] a lot of miscommunication,” junior forward David Walker explained. “It took a long time for us to get into the game, and you can’t have that when you’re playing the #9 team in the country.”
UC Davis, according to the most recent Ratings Percentage Index publication, was in fact ranked higher than UCSB. (Davis was ranked ninth, while the Gauchos were 16th.) However, Santa Barbara has generally had a huge home field advantage, and the Aggies sent a huge statement by leaving Harder Stadium with a win.
The scoring started in the 18th minute, with Big West leading scorer Quincy Amarikwa notching his 11th goal of the season. The Aggies’ star forward took a well-placed header from midfielder Paul Marcoux and dribbled toward the six-yard box. Gaucho freshman goalkeeper Kristopher Minton was frozen as the prolific scorer put the ball past him towards the near post and gave UC Davis a 1-0 lead.
UCSB was unable to muster much of an attack for the first half, registering only four shots and just one on the frame. At half time the scoreboard showed the Aggies up by one, but that would not last long. Just 2:30 into the second half, Davis midfielder Ian Conklin centered a lofted ball to Amarikwa in the middle of the box. Amarikwa, instead of attempting to get a head on the ball, attempted the rarely seen and even more rarely successful bicycle kick. The forward’s strike was brilliant, however, and rocketed to the top left corner of the goal. And all of a sudden, the Gauchos were down 2-0.
“Everyone was pretty much in shock,” Walker said. “It was a really nice goal.”
From there, Santa Barbara was able to get a few good opportunities in the second half but never was able to beat Davis keeper Ryan McCowan, who registered his sixth shutout on the season. As time expired, the 4,007 fans in attendance had the uncommon displeasure of seeing UCSB blanked at home. The final score was 2-0, and with that outcome the entire makeup of the conference had changed.
Davis (11-1-1, 3-0-1 Big West) is now the likely favorite to win the Big West conference title. Since the Big West’s reinstatement of soccer, only two teams have earned that honor: UCSB and Cal State Northridge. Year in and year out for the better part of a decade, Santa Barbara has dominated the Big West. The Aggies, meanwhile, were a Division II school just a few years ago. Saturday night may have functioned as a coming out party for UCD, with the Aggies announcing to the world that it they are a legitimate force to be reckoned with. The Gauchos, meanwhile, are scrambling for answers.
UCSB (6-4-2, 1-1-1 Big West) faces a lot of questions in the remainder of this season. For instance, how can a team composed of more than half freshmen come together and actually play up to their potential? Will UCSB regain its position atop the Big West or not? The most important question facing the Gauchos is likely where to go from here.
“Right now, I hate to say it, but we’re shooting for top four,” Walker said. “And that’s a terrible thing to say, but at this point in the season unless we can come together like the 2006 team, we’ve got to get top four.”
Walker is of course referring to the 2006 national champion Gauchos, who were 7-6 at this stage in the season. However, that team had a lot of senior leadership, something which this year’s squad lacks. The sad reality appears to be that this is a team that is unlikely to be the best in its conference, much less the country.