After taking second place in the Aztec Cup in San Diego two weeks ago, the UCSB men’s soccer club welcomed the University of San Francisco for their first home game of the season. Though the team was feeling confident after its strong finish at the cup, it knew better than to take the Dons lightly. However, their preparation was all for naught as USF came away with a 2-1 win.
As the opening minutes ticked away, the game looked to be an even match, with the ball frequently moving back and forth across the field. The first shot was taken five minutes into the game by USF, and UCSB didn’t take a shot until 10 minutes had gone by. At this point, however, the Gauchos began to shake off their nerves, and really put pressure on the Dons. Their efforts finally paid off when senior forward Amir Kazemi scored on an empty net after his first shot was blocked. Unfortunately for Santa Barbara, the Gauchos were unable to maintain the momentum, and USF was able to tie the game at one just before halftime.
“We were up 1-0 when they scored their first goal, and that came just before the halftime whistle,” junior goalie and captain Joel Katz said. “We really lost mental focus at the end of that half and they were able to capitalize off our play.”
San Francisco’s late first-half comeback was caused in part by their superior ball control.
“We really need to work on playing more unselfishly as a team overall,” Katz said. “We have lots of skillful and talented players on our team, but I feel at this point everyone is trying to do too much themselves, which ultimately leads to turnovers and loss of possession.”
When the Gauchos retook the field at the start of the second half, they seemed to be playing with renewed focus. They kept the ball on the USF side of the field for much of the first 20 minutes, and they took about 10 shots in that time.
“I just told the guys that we really need to start connecting and playing more as a unit,” Katz said. “When we pressure and attack as a team we are a very difficult squad to beat. I also told the guys that someone has to step up and score a goal for us.”
However, despite many opportunities, the Gauchos were unable to put the ball in the net and put the game away. The Dons began to put pressure back on the Gauchos and, with 10 minutes left, USF forward Matt Michaels put an outstanding shot into the upper right corner of the UCSB goal, making the score 2-1 in favor of the Dons. The Gauchos attempted to engineer a comeback in the final minutes but were unable to do so, and the game ended in a 2-1 USF victory.
“We had many chances in the last 20 minutes that would have tied the game and swung the momentum back in our favor, but we had several hits off the post,” junior captain and defenseman Roman Stahl said. “Finishing has much to do with confidence so hopefully we can build some of that in practice and calm our attackers in front of the net.”
The Gauchos will try to learn from this game in order to improve for their face-off with archrival Cal Poly this Saturday at 7 p.m. in Harder Stadium. Katz believes that the team will be ready after a week of practice.
“I think the biggest thing to take away from this game is the fact that we were dominant for the majority of the match both in possession and in scoring chances,” Katz said. “I expect us to come out Saturday night with a chip on our shoulders, hungry for some goals and glory. We have a solid squad and it’s only a matter of time until things start to click.”