And just like that, the dream died. UCSB’s 2008 campaign was cut short in the blink of an eye Tuesday night, as the Gauchos fell 3-2 in double overtime to Cal.
“This sport, fortunately, gives us life lessons,” senior midfielder Alfonso Motagalvan said. One has to wonder what lesson the co-captain, eyes bloodshot, barely 20 minutes removed from the last game of his collegiate career, learned against the Bears.
Maybe it was “Life isn’t fair.” Or perhaps “No matter how hard you try, sometimes things just aren’t going to go your way.” More likely, it was a simple, Mick Jagger-esque “You can’t always get what you want.” Gaucho players and fans alike could aptly apply any of these, and many more, to Tuesday’s outcome at Harder Stadium.
UCSB dominated Cal statistically, but it will be the Bears who advance to play Maryland in the third round. In fact, after coming back from two goals down with a furious rally, it seemed that victory had been preordained for Santa Barbara. But, as had been a theme for the Gauchos all season, defensive mistakes and an inability to finish offensively ended up costing them victory.
The scoring started in the 23rd minute, when a free kick from Cal midfielder Pat Marion found its way into the Gaucho box. Berkeley defensemen Chris Deal trapped it and sent a pass to forward Davis Paul in the middle of the box, who put the ball inside the right post to give the Bears an early lead.
From there, UCSB began to dominate possession, and would threaten several times in the remainder of the first half. However, four saves by Cal All-American keeper Stefan Frei helped maintain a 1-0 margin, and that would still be the score at half.
In the second frame, Santa Barbara came out firing, and the game seemed destined to be tied 1-1 sooner rather than later. However, a Gaucho defensive miscue changed the match’s outlook dramatically.
Playing a ball in his own box, Santa Barbara sophomore defenseman Michael Boxall tried to head the ball down to keeper Trond Helge Takset, but misplayed his pass. The ball stopped on the grass between the two, and the Bears’ leading scorer was there to capitalize. Forward Andrew Wiedeman reached the ball first and quickly fired it past Takset for a seemingly insurmountable 2-0 Cal lead with only 30:08 remaining.
With a first-ever home playoff defeat looming, UCSB would not go out quietly. The Gauchos ramped up their pressure even more, and it eventually paid off in the 68th minute when a Michael Tetteh cross on a corner kick found the head of junior defenseman Martin Hedevag, who promptly finished it to narrow the gap to one goal. The freshman midfielder, Tetteh, got an assist for the play, and would contribute again just minutes later.
Only 150 seconds later Tetteh took a free kick for the Gauchos from 21 yards out and rocketed it towards the wall. The ball deflected off of a Berkeley foot and into the net past a helpless Frei, tying the game and energizing the 1,754 fans that came out despite Thanksgiving and poor weather.
“[The] issue all season long has been very little about their desire, their effort, their energy,” Gaucho Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “You have to have a resilient group to give up as many goals as we have this year.”
The game would remain 2-2 throughout regulation and through one overtime period, despite UCSB dominating possession and opportunities. Santa Barbara’s inability to finish its chances would come back to haunt it in the second overtime period though, when another defensive miscue would end the Gaucho season once and for all.
A missed pass on defense resulted in Wiedeman going one-on-one with Hedevag deep in the Gaucho box. Hedevag couldn’t halt the forward, who stayed on his feet past Hedevag’s challenge and beat Takset on the near-post for the game-winner. Without any warning, while everything was going UCSB’s way, the season was instantly over.
“We have found many creative ways to give up goals this year, that just happened to be another one,” Vom Steeg said. Despite the dry humor, the coach was not overly cynical about the match.
“I’m not disappointed in our effort tonight,” he said. “It was one of those seasons where we literally tried everything, and we just couldn’t figure out how to quite get it right in the back.”
The loss marks the first playoff loss at Harder Stadium in program history. The Gauchos’ season ends with a disappointing 10-7-5 record, including a 0-3-3 record in their last six games. The six-game winless streak is the first for UCSB since 1998.
And while the Gauchos will miss seniors Nick Perera, Chris Pontius and Alfonso Motagalvan, the future certainly looks bright. The 16 freshmen brought in by Vom Steeg this year look to keep Santa Barbara in the top of the NCAAs for years to come.
So, for Gaucho fans, the lesson to take from this game may well be “There’s always next year.”