In front of a near record-breaking crowd of over 14,000 people, the UCSB men’s soccer team came back from a two-goal second half deficit against Cal Poly, eventually ending the game in a 2-2 tie.
Thanks to the dramatic comeback, the Gauchos remain tied with the Mustangs for second place in the North Division at 7-6-3 overall and 3-2-2 in the Big West. Cal Poly is now 8-4-4 overall.
“You have to give the guys an unbelievable amount of credit,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “You’re down 2-0 in the second half, they bounced back, they fought, they kept playing. The crowd was unbelievable.”
Santa Barbara, which entered the game with just a 1-6-1 record when allowing the first goal, found itself trailing at home for just the second time in the Big West this year only 14 minutes into the game.
Sophomore winger Justin Dhillon had his most productive offensive game of the year, scoring the game’s opening goal on a fairly simple breakaway finish. In the 52nd minute, Dhillon appeared to put the Gauchos away with a powerful strike that freshman goalkeeper Brandon Berke seemingly had no chance of saving.
“We were just kind of confused in the first 15-20 minutes and that led to the two breakaways. After that, they adjusted and they fixed things,” Vom Steeg said. “I thought that that they responded in all the right ways and what we have to carry forward is that positive part of that game.”
Despite outshooting Cal Poly a remarkable 30-10 for the game, UCSB remained scoreless over 50 minutes into the game. However, just one minute after conceding the second goal, the Gauchos answered right back. After a pass into the box by sophomore midfielder Andy Perez, a beautiful dummy by sophomore midfielder Nick DePuy setup freshman forward Ludwig Ahl for a clinical one-time finish.
“The first half they pushed up a lot more. As the half went on, we had more space to dribble and pass the ball,” sophomore midfielder Ismaila Jome said. “It was a fantastic crowd. It was great having the students out there, they gave us a lot of energy.”
From that point on, it was all UCSB. In the 66th minute, with an equalizer seeming imminent, an intercepting header by senior right back Kevin Garcia-Lopez started the break for the Gauchos, leading to freshman midfielder Axel Mendez chipping a pass into the box that found DePuy. After controlling the ball off of his chest and taking a touch to set himself up for the shot, DePuy was able to get a chip shot over rushing junior goalkeeper Wade Hamilton to tie the game at 2-2.
The star of the night was without a doubt Hamilton, who tied a season-high with nine saves. The Murrieta native made point-blank saves on multiple occasions to single-handedly keep his team in the game against a relentless Gaucho offense.
“I guess the biggest disappointment I had tonight was just the fact that we knew we would see this goalie. I didn’t realize it would be 30-10 in shots, but we just kept talking to our guys about hitting the ball hard,” Vom Steeg said. “He’s a very, very good goalie. A very good shot stopper.”
It seemed like it was just a matter of time before UCSB would find a winning goal, but despite outshooting their opponents 7-0 in two overtime periods, the Gauchos failed to find the back of the net.
DePuy and Mendez led Santa Barbara with six shots apiece, while Berke tallied three saves on the night.
“I want my goalkeeper to make at least one good save a game,” Vom Steeg said. “On the two saves that [Berke] made he simply stayed big, which is what we’ve talked about. Stay big and make someone shoot it by you, and he did that.”
The two-goal deficit was the largest that the Gauchos have faced this year in a game they didn’t lose. Next up for them is a game against UC Davis, currently sitting in first place in the North.
“Great that we came back, great that we bounced, great crowd, great atmosphere, great college soccer night,” Vom Steeg said. “That’s what UCSB is known for and I thought that the game delivered and our players delivered. There was great energy with our team tonight.”
The final game of the Gauchos’ three-game home-stand is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. this Wednesday.