The weather was hot, the field was small, and the referees were questionable Sunday afternoon at Cal State Northridge. But at the end of the day, the Gauchos have no one to blame but themselves for a 1-0 defeat at the hands of unranked Big West foe Cal State Northridge.
“It’s completely our fault,” senior forward David Walker said. “We came out with no energy and were flat.”
That said, Sunday clearly was not the Gauchos’ day. Several Santa Barbara players were recovering from the same flu bug that has spread throughout UCSB, and team energy was at a minimum.
“I don’t want to make excuses, but we’ve got a lot of guys that are sick right now,” Walker said. “…We have six or seven starters coming off the flu. It’s kind of rough, guys throwing up at halftime and in the locker room.”
Despite an unwell team and an ever-treacherous afternoon start, the Gauchos hung tough throughout the match. Both defenses utilized Northridge’s small field and cut off passing lanes well, not allowing offenses to get going.
“We couldn’t generate anything going forward,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “We struggled connecting in the final third, and we just couldn’t do anything offensively.”
The game changed somewhat in the 26th minute, when an offside — unbeknownst to him, as the center referee had yet to blow his whistle regarding the assistant referee’s flag — Sunghyun Kim of the Matadors streaked toward the Gaucho box and goalkeeper Sam Hayden came out to stop him. Hayden collided with freshman defender Nic Ryan on what should have been a dead play.
“I was just going to come out and get as much as I could on it to get the ball out of there,” Hayden said. And then? “I don’t really know. We just collided.”
Hayden spent a few minutes on the ground before being subbed out of the game (to a standing ovation from the 15 or so hardcore Gaucho Locos in attendance) for sophomore Trond Helge Takset. Takset remained in the game past halftime, before the swelling in Hayden’s eye had subsided to the point where the junior regained a little depth perception. However, the backup keeper did fine in his stint between the pipes, not allowing a goal and making a couple of big saves.
The halftime score was 0-0, and it was not until the 78th minute that the deadlock was broken. A Matador corner kick was headed around the box, until forward Robert Pate deflected it into the upper right corner past a diving Hayden. The goal was the first Hayden and the Gauchos had allowed in over 540 minutes, and put them in a precarious position.
Needing a comeback, the Gauchos increased the pressure on the Matador back line. However, with an upset in sight, the stout Northridge defense buckled down and packed the box to the point where no Santa Barbara forward had a chance at entering. A few missed chances later, time expired and the third-ranked team in the land had taken its first loss in six games.
“It’s not much more than us not having a good day for 90 minutes and still being in a situation where we could win the game,” Vom Steeg said. “But not today.”
With the loss, UCSB falls to 10-3-1, and 4-1 in conference. The Matadors improve to 7-5-1, and 2-2 in the Big West. Santa Barbara now has a week off before returning home on Saturday for a match with Cal State Fullerton.