Another game, another goal for UCSB. And for the third time in three Big West matches, just one score was all it took to pick up a victory. The #7 Gauchos bested UC Riverside 1-0 on Saturday night on the road, improving to 3-0 in Big West play in the process.
“1-0, 3-0, 9-0… it’s 3 points,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. The Big West’s all time winningest coach was just happy to pick up the conference road win.
Santa Barbara, playing without freshman sensation Michael Nonni (the forward injured his knee in practice and is expected to miss a couple of weeks of play), got the game started in the right way. Just 50 seconds into the match, senior forward David Walker took advantage of nice passing by Waid Ibrahim and Machael David, collecting the ball just outside the penalty box with one man to beat. Riverside’s defense was initially solid, but Walker stuck with the ball and ended up blocking an attempted clearance. The club-handed senior, whose hand has been cast-bound since breaking four metacarpals in the LMU game, took the ball on his left foot and crossed his body with a low rolling shot. The ball got past Highlander keeper Ryan Schmitz finding its way into the right side of the net and giving the Gauchos a 1-0 lead.
The first minute goal seemed destined to be built upon, but from there the two teams began settling into their defenses. Each team notched several shots, including four shots on goal apiece, but opportunities were few and far between. Over the course of the entire match, the Gauchos only had a couple of opportunities to extend their lead. Unable to capitalize, UCSB allowed Riverside to stay in the game until the bitter end.
As the final whistle sounded it was the road squad celebrating, but the 1-10-0 Highlanders certainly had given a performance to hang their hats on.
“I thought this Riverside team — I saw them on tape a couple times — I knew they were much better than their record,” Vom Steeg said. “This was a very, very good team we played tonight, and they are going to beat people.”
With the win, the Gauchos extend their winning streak to four games, advancing their overall record to 9-2-1. In those last four wins, including wins over national powers Indiana, Irvine and Cal Poly, UCSB has not conceded a single goal.
“Early in the season, I’m not sure we thought [defense] was going to be our strength,” Vom Steeg said. “We have played better [defensively] every single game, and of course this all came after the four goals we gave up against San Diego State.”
That SDSU debacle — a 4-2 defeat in an afternoon road game — was the last time any opponent scored on Santa Barbara. Since then, goalkeeper Sam Hayden and the Gaucho defense have gone 374 minutes without allowing a ball to cross the end line.
“Sam’s playing well in goal, and we’ve picked up in the back,” Vom Steeg said. “We have made sure to work hard back and forth to get behind the ball so we’re not letting guys just randomly run free like earlier in the year.”
Despite a relative dearth of goals as of late, UCSB is playing some of its best soccer. The defense looks impenetrable, and the offense has yet to be shut out this season. And while one goal wins may not be pretty, they undeniably get the job done. Vom Steeg says it is all part of the strategy.
“All I know is that at some point we’re going to score; we just need to stay solid in the back. … And the reality is that when we’re behind the ball and working hard we’re not going to give up a goal.”
If the ingredients are as sound as Vom Steeg believes, the plan figures to be a recipe for some serious success.