Wednesday was a tale of two halves for UCSB soccer. Fortunately for the #13 Gauchos, a stellar second half outweighed lackluster play in the first frame and propelled them to a 3-1 comeback victory over Cal State Northridge.
“We didn’t have a very good first half,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “But at half time we made some adjustments… and things started going our way.
“We really turned the game around.”
Things started off slowly in the first half, with both teams trading shots but nothing too dangerous. Then, in the 32nd minute, a long throw in on Northridge’s narrow field found its way into the gaucho box, where it caught the head of CSUN forward Camilo Rojas. Rojas’ deflection somehow rolled its way through the crowd and into the net past UCSB freshman keeper Trond Helge Takset.
In a tactical move, Vom Steeg had decided to give Takset the start over fellow freshman Kristopher Minton, who had been in goal for UCSB throughout the Big West season prior to this game. Takset allowed one goal and had two saves on the afternoon.
Neither team would score again in the first half, and Northridge went into the locker room with big hopes for pulling off the upset. However, UCSB would not allow that to happen.
“We’ve had the type of team that’s really responded to being down,” Vom Steeg said.
Santa Barbara certainly responded to the Matadors, coming out in the second half with a renewed energy. But 20 minutes into the half, the Gauchos had yet to find the net and were still down a goal.
Then the floodgates opened.
In the 67th minute, freshman midfielder Danny Barrera laid a perfect cross to senior forward Chris Pontius, who headed the ball past Northridge keeper Kevin Guppy for the equalizer. Before the co-captain even had time to catch his breath from his team-leading 13th goal, the Gauchos found the back of the net again.
Immediately following the kickoff, UCSB intercepted a pass and immediately gathered a breakaway. Sophomore forward Bongomin Otii found himself one-on-one with Guppy and capitalized with the eventual game winner. The goal was Otii’s first of the season, and could not have come at a better time for the Gauchos.
“We were playing really well, and then all of a sudden the goals started to happen,” Vom Steeg said.
The two quick scores visibly deflated the Matadors, who were never able to recover. In fact, UCSB added an insurance goal in the 86th minute when Pontius was decked just outside of the Northridge 18 yard box. The offender – Northridge defenseman Bo Miller – was issued a red card and the Gauchos had a free kick from close range. Junior midfielder Jon Curry bent the ball around the wall perfectly and past Guppy for UCSB’s third and final score of the match.
With the win, UCSB (10-4-2, 5-1-1 Big West) climbs to the top of the conference again. With three games to play, UCSB leads UC Davis by one point, and has one more game in hand than the Aggies. Northridge (6-6-4, 2-2-3 Big West), conversely, must now struggle for the fourth Big West tournament slot with UC Irvine and Cal Poly.
The win is the Gauchos’ fourth straight, and it seems like UCSB is getting hot at just the right time.
“I like where we’re heading now,” Vom Steeg said. “I’ve liked what we’ve been doing for a while now. It’s never been about talent… it’s a matter of playing well together. We’re getting closer and closer to where we need to be.”