Two weeks ago, the No. 18 UCSB men’s soccer team played easily its worst game of the year, losing 5-2 to a Sacramento State team that currently sits in last place in the Big West North Division. Last night, thanks to a pair of trademark headers from the nation’s leading goal-scorer in junior forward Nick DePuy, the Gauchos got their revenge, taking down the Hornets 2-1 in their regular season home finale.
“I’m pleased with our effort tonight,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “I thought that our players palyed a reasonably good game, especially given the bounce back from a really emotional game against Cal Poly.”
At 11-5-2 overall and 6-2-1 in conference, Santa Barbara now needs a win or a tie in its season finale to hold on to first-place in the Big West North Division.
For the Hornets, the loss dropped their record to 6-9-2 overall and 3-4-1 in conference. They will need a win against Cal Poly and a UC Davis loss on Saturday to secure the final spot in the Big West Tournament.
The seats at Harder Stadium weren’t even warm yet before DePuy got his team on the board less than two minutes into the game. After UCSB won a free kick deep in the left midfield, freshman forward Geoffrey Acheampong played a long ball towards senior defender Duncan Backus at the far post.
Despite a difficult angle, Backus redirected a header back across goal right where DePuy was making his run, and he knocked it in to open the scoring. The goal was the fastest scored for UCSB all season, coming just 104 seconds into the game and marking the second straight game in which DePuy has scored.
The two sides provided little action until the second half, when DePuy capped off his night recording his third brace of the year. In the 53rd minute, freshman forward Geoffrey Acheampong played a simple cross in from the right side towards DePuy, who rose above his defender and headed it down and in towards the far post as he has done so many times this season.
“We wanted the second goal because this is a dangerous team,” Vom Steeg said. “They score a lot on free kicks, they break out really well, and they haven’t been shutout in a while, so my concern was I didn’t think one goal was going to be enough.”
UCSB went up 2-0 for the second straight game, but it took just 17 seconds for the Hornets to answer back and cut the lead in half. A cross from the left wing by junior midfielder Ivan Ramirez cut through the Santa Barbara defense before senior forward Isaac Flores put away his fourth goal of the season.
However, unlike when they tied Cal Poly 2-2 last Saturday, the Gauchos were able to hold on to extend their unbeaten streak to three games.
“Credit to the team, we did finish this game off a little better than [against Cal Poly],” Vom Steeg said. “We took a couple balls to the corner, we made it a throw in game, we won the head balls in the box that we had to win. All those things that we did not do against Cal Poly, we did tonight.”
The Big West has seen quite a few goals from the Gauchos this season, who lead the conference with 37 total, but the offensive success can be attributed mostly to DePuy, who ranks first in the nation with 15 goals and eight game-winners.
“The one thing we discussed at the beginning of the season was if he wanted to pick up 15, 16 goals, he would have to work really hard in the offseason on attacking the ball and either putting it back across the box or getting it down,” Vom Steeg said. “He put the work in to be where he is right now. It’s very hard to stop him when he gets the kind of service he got today.”
Picking up an assist on both of UCSB’s goals, Acheampong now has 10 for the year, three more than anyone else in the conference.
“Today I think it all kind of came together,” Acheampong said. “The big guys have been open all year. It just comes down to how efficiently I can get it done and how well I’m able to find them.”
The Gauchos lost junior winger Ismaila Jome to injury in the first half and he did not return. Jome recently returned to the lineup after missing nearly half the season with an ankle injury.
With Cal Poly drawing 0-0 against UC Davis last night, both the UCSB men’s and women’s soccer teams clinched a spot in the Big West Tournament for the first time since 2009. The Gauchos can keep the No. 1 seed, a first round bye and home-field advantage in the tournament for the third-straight year with a win or tie on Saturday or a Cal Poly loss or tie.
UCSB will close out the regular season at UC Davis on Saturday.