The 2008 season ended up being one to forget for UCSB men’s soccer, sputtering late in the season and getting walloped by UC Irvine in the Big West Tournament final. The Gauchos thought they had put those troubles behind them this year, putting together an impressive conference schedule and sitting at a #4 ranking nationally. Clearly, they were wrong.
In its final game before the NCAA tournament, UCSB fell 4-1 to Irvine at home in this year’s finale, channeling the problems of last year’s team and raising serious doubts about its postseason hopes.
“[Irvine] wanted it more than us,” sophomore midfielder Luis Silva said. “We were more focused on the [NCAA tournament]. That’s what was wrong.”
For a team that had only given up one goal in its last 12 games, the Gauchos defensive effort was decidedly lackluster. Irvine scored just 10 minutes in, notching a corner kick goal at the feet of Grey Bailey.
Not long after, the Anteaters did it again. The Gauchos were possessing on defense when Irvine brought pressure, forcing senior defender Martin Hedevag into a bad position. He tried to play the pass back to junior keeper Sam Hayden, but the two couldn’t connect and Irvine was there to scoop up the aftermath. The ball reached Irving Garcia, who put it into the open net and gave UCI a 2-0 lead.
“We talked all year about not playing back to Sam, and I don’t know why we did tonight,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “I really don’t know why we did tonight.”
Down two goals just half an hour in, the Gauchos needed some momentum. What they got was very different.
After being whistled for a challenge from behind, sophomore midfielder Peter McGlynn expressed his displeasure to the center referee, arms wide and with an emphatic tone. The referee rewarded him with a red card even though he had not committed a foul prior to that point.
“He was frustrated, and he yelled out an expletive … which is said on a soccer field 95 times every [game],” Vom Steeg said. The head coach was even more surprised moments before when his assistant coach, Leo Chappel, was ejected for dissent.
Down a man, the Gauchos held off the ‘Eaters for the remainder of the first half. In fact, UCSB came out strong in the second frame and looked like the aggressor. Sophomore midfielder Danny Barrera notched an excellent shot off a breakaway but it was saved perfectly by Irvine keeper Andrew Fontein.
Eventually, after numerous attempts, the Gauchos began to get tired with only 10 men, and Irvine exploited them. In the 60th minute, UCSB had a foul called in the box, resulting in a penalty kick for the Anteaters, which Carlos Aguilar promptly converted.
Things got worse for the already gassed Gauchos when Spencer Thompson got on the board for UCI, moving the score to 4-0 and causing many SB fans to exit Harder Stadium. However, the vast majority of UCSB supporters stuck around until the bitter end and were rewarded for it.
In the 83rd minute, sophomore defender Tim Pontius knocked in a header from freshman midfielder Machael David to put the Gauchos on the board at 4-1. While the game was still out of hand, at least SB had that goal to show for a decent effort.
“It’s one thing to come back from 2-0, Vom Steeg said. “But [it’s even harder] with the red card.” He added, on a positive note, “All teams are measured by how they do in the NCAA playoffs.”
That’s what UCSB is facing next. The Gauchos will find out where they’re headed today and will play their first game this weekend.