Two games… two David Walker goals… two UCSB victories. The Gauchos are in the third round of the NCAA Tournament following back-to-back 1-0 wins, but Sunday’s victory at #11 seeded San Diego was a league above the lackluster showing in the first round against Wofford. The only similarity was the result.
“Great win tonight,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. Vom Steeg, leading his team in his eighth consecutive NCAA appearance, was particularly pleased with his team’s resiliency. “If we didn’t show up and battle tonight, we were going to get run over.”
That nearly happened in the first half, when UCSB’s attack seemed very undersized against a physical Torero back line. The Gauchos could hardly generate any threats, while USD controlled the majority of possession. The game turned, however, with two minutes left in the first half.
Sophomore midfielder Danny Barrera played a perfect lofted through ball to senior forward Walker, who split two defenders and headed it to himself. On his second touch, he moved the ball away from the defense and lined up a shot, slotting the ball to the far post and giving the Gauchos a 1-0 lead.
“Danny played a great ball over their center back’s head,” Walker said. “I headed it just far enough to the right to get behind their player’s back. When he couldn’t see me, I shot for the goal.”
Vom Steeg approved of the execution on the part of his senior forward.
“That goal, how we scored tonight, was probably [like] most of our goals this season, where we’re able to break through with speed through the center backs and get great delivery from our midfield. … That’s our bread and butter.”
It certainly energized the Gauchos, who were set to go into halftime with a 1-0 lead. The Toreros almost stopped that from happening, as a last ditch shot as time expired beat junior goalkeeper Sam Hayden to the post and found the netting. But it was not to be for USD, as the halftime buzzer had sounded moments prior to the goal.
“The guy got a shot off and turned in the box,” Hayden said. “Luckily he got it off late, and the ref made a good call.”
With a 1-0 lead at the break, UCSB carried its momentum into the second half. The Gauchos started the half strong and continued to apply pressure on the San Diego backline throughout.
“We completely dominated the second half,” Walker said.
The senior almost made it 2-0 when the ball found his feet at the penalty spot, but his shot went straight at the keeper to maintain the one-goal lead.
The mistake would not cost UCSB, as the midfield dominated possession for the rest of the game and kept the Toreros away from Hayden and the Gaucho net. As more time ran off the clock, Santa Barbara looked better and better, easily riding out a 1-0 win.
While several players had stellar games (sophomor defender Peter McGlynn might have stolen the show), Vom Steeg had another idea for where the game ball should go.
“The number of people who drove down to San Diego was unbelievable. … It lifted our guys,” he said, giving a special shout out to the Gaucho Locos who decorated his team’s locker room before the game. “If there was a game ball, it probably goes to those guys.”
With the win, UCSB advances to the third round, where it will face its old nemesis in UCLA. That game will be on Sunday in Los Angeles and figures to be a classic.
“If you want to be a soccer fan, you’ll want to be at that game,” Vom Steeg said.