It was a busy weekend for UC Santa Barbara club soccer, with both teams in action. While the women’s team lost its first game of the season playing host to the UCSB Invitational, the men’s team picked up a much needed win after a slow start to their 2009 campaign.

Before the defending national champion women’s team suffered a surprising loss to UCLA to conclude their tournament play, they blew through three opponents to bolster their impressive 5-1 record.

Opening on Friday against CSU Long Beach, the Gauchos got on top early as junior midfielder Christina Beck scored the first half’s only goal in the 19th minute.

“Getting that first goal is always important,” Head Coach Todd Heil said. “It helps to settle you down a bit.”

In the second half, the Gaucho offense woke up and began to find the back of the net with ease. Freshman forward Hannah Bryant scored the second Santa Barbara goal, which came in the 36th minute. Soon after, junior defense-man Natalie Lemonnier scored off an assist from senior midfielder Chelsey Stewart to bring the score to 3-0. With the game virtually out of reach, UCSB put the game out of question thanks in large part to senior forward Alyssa Doniak. After scoring a goal herself, Doniak assisted the final Gaucho goal only two minutes later, finding junior forward Tannia Hernandez. A last- ditch Long Beach effort took away the shutout, but the Gauchos would cruise to a 5-1 win.

“We understood that we needed to stop playing through balls,” Heil said, talking about the difference in his offense between the first and second halves. “That was our biggest problem.”

On Saturday, the Gauchos played their first game against rival Cal Poly. The Mustangs put up a good fight, but with a strong UCSB defense standing in their way, the home team would roll to a 2-0 shutout. The team’s first goal scored in the 30th minute was easily the highlight of the game, as Stewart knocked in a spectacular header off a well-placed Doniak corner kick.
Later that day, UCSB met with the Trojans of USC and played to a 0-0 stalemate for the majority of the contest. Finally, in the 62nd minute, Stewart scorched a shot past the diving USC goalie to give the Gauchos the lead in what would go down in the books as a 1-0 win. With the offense not its usual prolific self, both Heil and Doniak credit the win to a strong defense.

“[These games] speak volumes [about the defense], especially since the back line is brand new this year,” Heil said.

Though defense set the tone in their first three victories, the struggling offense would spell the end of the reigning champion’s perfect season. Santa Barbara was able to control the ball more than the Bruins throughout the game, but it was UCLA that would break through to score the winning goal with only four minutes left in the game. Coach Heil attributes the lack of offense to the absence of a key player.

“We need to get [sophomore forward] Laura Capparilli healthy,” Heil said. “Without Laura, we’re missing a big part of our offensive attack.”

The men’s club team also took on USC this weekend, welcoming the Trojans to Rob Field on Sunday in search of a win after a mediocre 2-2-2 start to the season. In the first half, the Gauchos dominated the Trojans in time of possession but were unable to score. However, the way they were playing, it was clear that it was only a matter of time before they would get on the board.
The offense finally came through in the 47th minute, as junior forward Sean Harvey shot the ball right past the fingertips of the
diving USC goalie to give the Gauchos a 1-0 lead.

“It certainly lifted a little pressure off our backs, but a one-goal lead in soccer is nothing, so we knew that we needed to lock down in the back and try and score some insurance goals,” senior goalie Joel Katz said.

Once play resumed, UCSB went right back on the attack, and in the 62nd minute, sophomore forward Kyle Robinson scored to make the score 2-0 in favor of the Gauchos. In the end, it was the Santa Barbara’s stout defense and superior communication that allowed them to come out on top.

“Good communication is essential to our team’s success,” Katz said. “If we can continue to push each other on the field and stay organized defensively, we will continue to see positive results.”