A tie was all it took for the Gauchos Wednesday night, as #3 UCSB battled Cal Poly to a scoreless draw in front of 9,824 fans in San Luis Obispo. With the result, Santa Barbara left its northern rivals as the Big West Regular Season Champions.
“We always want to win,” goalkeeper Sam Hayden said. “But coming here and scrapping out a tie — especially in this atmosphere and with the way [Cal Poly] played tonight — it’s a good accomplishment.”
Hayden, who picked up his 12th shutout of the season (and ninth in 10 games) played a big roll in picking up the tie. The junior they call Superman made several key stops, including a diving game-changer in the 84th minute on what looked like a surefire Mustang score. He is now one shutout away from tying Dan Kennedy’s UCSB shutout record, and likely has several chances remaining to reach it.
“Sam has put together a remarkable season, I don’t know how else to say it,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. The Big West’s all-time winningest coach went on to not-so-subtly suggest that his keeper might deserve a Big West Player of the Week nod at some point.
Though his biggest save came near the end of regulation, Hayden had the most to worry about in the first half. The Mustangs came out fired up in front of their large home crowd and threw wave after wave of pressure at the Gaucho back line.
“The first half was scary, and they had a few opportunities,” Hayden said. “Every attack they had they just broke out on us.”
Cal Poly was unable to connect on any of its chances however, and in fact rarely created dangerous finishing opportunities.
“It wasn’t like in the run of play I actually thought they were going to combine their way in,” Vom Steeg said, though adding a caveat that their set-pieces were more than a little frightening. “We have defended well; we kept people in front of us.”
Going into half-time, the Gauchos were on their heels and hardly looking like a national powerhouse. That changed in the second frame.
“In the second half, we responded,” Vom Steeg said. “The second half was us.”
Vom Steeg steered away from the box-score to make his point.
“We had four or five crossing opportunities where it doesn’t show up in the shots, but we just needed to single out one guy and end the game.”
Despite a few scary UCSB possessions, the Gauchos were by and large unable to threaten Patrick McClain in the Mustang net. And when the pressure mounted in the late minutes, it was Cal Poly that almost came out on top.
Mustang midfielder Wes Feighner redirected a low cross perfectly to the near post with just over six minutes remaining, and placed it brilliantly. Hayden reacted in a split second and knocked it past the post with his left hand.
Minutes later, sophomore forward Waid Ibrahim was pulled down by the shirt in the penalty box, begging for a call to no avail from the referee.
The game proceeded into overtime, and UCSB controlled the pace of the game from there. Senior forward David Walker made several good runs into the corner and placed crosses into the box, but no Gaucho was at the receiving end and Cal Poly was consistently able to escape.
In the end, the Mustangs became just the second team to shut out UCSB this year, though in the process they conceded the Big West Title. Vom Steeg, for his part, is happy with the result.
“Our goal tonight was to get a tie or a win and wrap up a league championship,” he said. “We look for a win, but we’ll take a tie in front of a bunch of people on the road and we’re excited about playing for senior night on Saturday.”