It was a tough weekend for the UCSB Women’s Soccer team, returning home for the first time in weeks only to lose 2-1 to Arizona on Friday, before dropping a 3-1 decision to #3 UCLA the following Sunday. The Gauchos (3-6-1 overall) made both Pac-10 opponents work for each victory, but in the end converted too few set piece opportunities for a win to materialize.
“[Arizona] we knew would be a big game, and I think that was a winnable game for us,” said junior center-back Nicole Romanowski. “We came out the first half a little flat, but picked it up the second half and played really well. UCLA, we knew what we were up against, but we came out fearless, and I’m happy with the way we played.”
Santa Barbara began the weekend with an evening date with the Wildcats (3-6-1) in a rematch of last year’s meeting, a match the Gauchos won 1-0 in overtime. For the first 35 minutes another nail-biter seemed in the cards until sophomore midfielder Jessica Culver redirected an on-frame offering by junior midfielder Lelia Amin for a 1-0 AU lead.
It would stay 1-0 through halftime, but with only seven minutes elapsed in the second half Arizona found the back of the net once more. Senior forward Jasmine Namdar broke away from the Gaucho defense on a well-executed counter-attack before centering the ball to the awaiting feet of sophomore forward Renae Cullear, who expertly cashed in her sixth of the year.
Down 2-0 midway through the second half, UCSB finally converted one of their numerous chances as senior midfielder Jaqui Simon buried a point-black shot off a deflection by the keeper. Unfortunately, that would be one of the last looks UCSB got for the rest of the match, as Arizona clamped down defensively to hold on for a 2-1 result. UCSB outshot the Wildcats 11-4 on the night, with a 3-2 advantage in on-frame shots, but Arizona converted both their opportunities and thus earned the win.
“That was a really unlucky game,” said freshman midfielder Erin Ortega. “…As soon as we got that goal, we all got fired up. If we had played the way we did in the second half [in the first half], the game would have been a lot different.”
If Arizona, proved difficult for Santa Barbara to handle, conventional wisdom would have predicted a rout come Sunday’s afternoon match with UCLA (8-1-1), but surprisingly the Gauchos hung tough. After a quick breakaway goal by sophomore forward Sydney Leroux within the first five minutes of the first, UCSB tightened up on defense and would not surrender a goal, or many Bruin chances, for the remainder of the half. With under five minutes to go before halftime, UCSB found the equalizer, as Ortega launched a pretty header off the near post which glanced into the net past sophomore keeper Chante Sandiford. Sophomore forward Alissa Sanchez, who contributed an assist against Arizona, got another one against UCLA, as it was her cross the that fed Ortega.
While the 1-1 score at halftime certainly gave UCSB the momentum, UCLA exited the locker room seemingly unfazed, scoring an early goal once more off a corner kick to make it 2-1. Not fifteen minutes later, Leroux turned on the afterburners again on a counter-attack, weaving through the left side of the UCSB defense to convert a one-on-four opportunity for a 3-1 UCLA lead. That lead would hold as Santa Barbara could not muster enough offense to dent the stout Bruin backline.
“We had, what, six corners? And they had two,” said Romanowski. “We definitely need to work on our corners and put some of those away. It seems like we’ll play well for 15 minutes, and then have one little mess-up. We need to stay focused and keep working together and we’ll be fine.”
UCSB hits the road to open Big West play against UC Irvine and Cal State Northridge before returning home to face Cal State Fullerton on October 9th. Kickoff for that home match is set for 7 p.m.