With conference play opening up this weekend, the UCSB men’s soccer team announced to the rest of the league that they are ready to retake their claim as top dogs in the Big West. Santa Barbara kicked off conference play with a pair of shutouts, defeating Cal State Fullerton 3-0 Friday and UC Riverside 2-0 Sunday, ending a seven-game homestand.

UCSB has now won three consecutive games, all shutouts, improving its record to 7-4 overall and 2-0 in conference. With the defense playing outstandingly and the offense finally starting to warm up, the Gauchos are once again looking like a dangerous team in the Big West this season.

“From the first game at home to this last, that is our third consecutive shutout. Every game for the past five games we’ve been playing better and better,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “I would say that three weeks ago, two weeks ago, we would have lost that game. The fact that we are now finding a way to win was the real takeaway from today’s game.”

Sunday night’s game featured scoring before the crowd even got comfortable in their seats. Senior forward Achille Campion scored a goal 37 seconds into the game, setting the tone for the Gauchos early on. Campion’s goal was a team-high fourth on the season off a through ball from senior midfielder Goffin Boyoko, while senior defender Daniel Welsh also received an assist on the play.

After Campion gave UCSB the advantage, the game developed into a physical match as nine yellow cards were issued during the night, with players from both teams not backing down. Play throughout the game was extremely chippy, especially during the second half.

“To me, it starts and ends that there’s a responsibility for the man with the whistle. The reality is [the referee] let a lot go,” Vom Steeg said. “I thought we were tough enough, strong enough. We didn’t lose our composure, we didn’t freak out. I wasn’t joking when I said I was happy that we won the game, we had no injuries and we didn’t take a red card.”

Playing with a 1-0 lead, the Gauchos received an insurance goal from freshman forward Ismaila Jome in the 82nd minute to cement the result as a UCSB victory. Jome’s shot from beyond the box was the first goal of his career.

“I feel like [the offense is] progressing pretty well,” Jome said. “I’m new to the team, [freshman midfielder Drew Murphy] is new to the team and we have a couple more freshmen playing, so we’re just getting used to each other and playing up top with [Campion and Boyoko].”

Defensively, UCSB was led by freshman goalkeeper Josh McNeely who recorded five saves and posted his third consecutive shutout.

“Our defense has finally found itself. They’re competing for balls, they’re competing for everything and they’re not leaving loose balls,” Vom Steeg said. “Josh is making the one or two plays that he has to make. The bottom line is we always thought our defense was going to be good this year; it just takes us a while. These are two games that we had to have this weekend and nothing’s ever easy.”

While Sunday’s game certainly displayed the Gauchos’ superiority, UCSB was even more dominant on Friday night against Fullerton.

The Gauchos received goals from three seniors not usually known for putting the ball in the back of the net in midfielder Fifi Baiden and defenders Peter Schmetz and Matt Glodack. Santa Barbara controlled the game, owning an 18-11 advantage in shots and a 7-4 edge in shots on goal.

Campion and Jome each recorded an assist on the night, while Murphy added two for the Gauchos. Jome led the team in assists with five on the season.

“I think we are clicking, we’re getting our team chemistry right now,” Baiden said. “At the beginning of every season, we have a lot of freshman on the team and people get injured, so it’s hard to find that team rhythm. But now everything is great, people are getting back from injury and we’re getting an understanding of how everyone plays.”

McNeely was solid once again between the posts, making four saves on the night for the Gauchos. Thanks in large part to McNeely, UCSB has recorded shutouts in three consecutive matches for the first time since 2010 and sits atop the Big West North division standings.

“It’s definitely confidence when you don’t get scored on, that feels great because that means we can work going forward,” Campion said. “I think everyone did a good job and I’m proud of my teammates.”

While defense was certainly a key to the victory, the offense found a groove, scoring three goals, and tied for a season-high with two other occasions in the year.

“It was very important for our team confidence and what we’re trying to do in terms of winning the Big West tournament or winning a Big West championship,” Baiden said. “It’s good for us, it sets the tone for the next game and we’re going to be fired up for the next game.”

UCSB next travels to Cal State Northridge for a 7 p.m. match on Friday.


A version of this article appeared on page 5 of October 7, 2013’s print edition of The Daily Nexus.

Photo by Peter Vandenbelt of The Daily Nexus.