With the conference title already wrapped up going into the final game of the season, some teams would elect to change their strategy. The UC Santa Barbara men’s soccer team did not.
In front of a crowd of 6,854 fans on senior night, the Gauchos did what they have done throughout the conference season: win, and win defensively. Junior goalkeeper Sam Hayden notched his 13th shutout, and the offense tacked on two second-half goals to give UCSB a hard-earned 2-0 victory.
“I thought we played very well tonight,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “We did all the right things; we just didn’t get the goal in the first half which would have opened up the game for us.”
In fact, the Gauchos seemed to find every spot of the goal except the net in the first frame, firing shot after shot at the Davis goal to no avail. Santa Barbara hit the crossbar, the side-netting and even had one cleared off the line before finally breaking through in the second half.
Vom Steeg, who thought a lot of the scoreless first half could be attributed to bad luck, was happy with the offense’s intensity.
“It was hot in front of the box,” he said. “All I was asking for from our guys was lots of energy.”
Despite dominating the run of play, the Gauchos did give up a couple of good chances to the Aggies, who nearly capitalized. First, Hayden made a two-handed diving save to his right on a header, catching the ball perfectly while fully horizontal.
Later, the junior made a stellar save on a free-kick, just getting a piece of the ball to send it wide of the frame.
Vom Steeg said he tells his keepers, “You need one save. Tonight, [Hayden] gave us two.”
Those saves, combined with solid defensive play for most of the match, gave the keeper known as Superman his 13th shutout of the year, and 10th in 11 games. That ties him for the most all-time at UCSB with Gaucho legend Dan Kennedy — a mark Vom Steeg never thought he would see equaled.
Through the whole of the 10-game conference season Hayden and the Gauchos gave up one goal — a corner kick header in the 1-0 loss at Cal State Northridge. With that as UCSB’s only setback, Santa Barbara went on to accumulate an 8-1-1 record and a regular season title.
“[One goal allowed] has to be a record, and one that won’t be broken,” Vom Steeg said. “It’s absolutely remarkable. It says a lot about Sam … and the Martin [Hedevag]-[Michael] Boxall combination.”
The second half allowed UCSB to really get moving offensively. In the 65th minute, Michael Nonni sprung through a Davis offside trap from 50 yards out, bringing in a perfect pass and finding himself one on one with Matt Provencher, the Davis keeper. Nonni did all he needed to beat Provencher far post, slotting the ball home to give the Gauchos a 1-0 lead.
Just moments later, senior forward David Walker added a score of his own, playing an attempted pass from the end-line off the back of an Aggie defender and into the net.
“Yeah, you like that bend I put on the ball?” Walker joked. “It didn’t even touch the guy.”
With a two-goal deficit against a team that had only allowed one all conference season long, the Aggies seemed to wilt at the end of the game, and the remainder of the match played out uneventfully.
With the 2-0 win, Santa Barbara rounds out its regular season at 14-3-2 and ranked (as of last Tuesday) at #3 in the country. Up next for UCSB is a Big West Tournament semifinal showdown with Cal State Northridge at Harder. The Matadors are the only conference foe to have bested Santa Barbara this year, and the Gauchos are looking to make sure it does not happen again. That game is scheduled for Wednesday night at 7 p.m., and tickets are $5 for students.