UCSB men’s soccer finally ended its scoring drought; however, the Gauchos will have to settle for a 2-2 tie against the Anteaters as overtime saw neither team take an advantage.
When UC Irvine doubled their lead in the 62nd minute — the result of an errant pass out of the back by keeper Ben Roach — the Gauchos had hit rock bottom. Entering the match in sixth place in the Big West Conference, Santa Barbara knew they needed a result to keep their season afloat — no easy task considering they were taking on the first-place Anteaters on the road. Having only tallied two road goals all season, UCSB seemed all but dead in the water.
But as the age-old sports aphorism goes, a team only shows its true colors in the face of adversity. Entering the match, Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg had said the team was treating the game as if it were a playoff match. True to his word, the team fought for all 90 minutes, with junior Hunter Ashworth netting a goal in the 71st minute and sophomore Carson Vom Steeg scoring the equalizer in the 76th minute. After a fruitless overtime period, the Santa Barbara players collapsed on the pitch, content with the vital point they had picked up on the road.
Entering the match, the Gauchos had been desperate to find consistent offense, with the team failing to score in 10 consecutive regulation halves. After they dropped Wednesday’s match to a lowly Riverside squad, one wondered what mentality the embattled team would come out with.
To the Gauchos’ credit, the team came out with an incredibly positive start. Vom Steeg had once again tinkered with the formation to try to manufacture offense, moving junior forward Ignacio Tellechea to left mid and bringing captain Jan Ilskens up front as the lone striker. Kaya Fabretti and Sahid Conteh also slotted into the midfield, in the hope that the two would use their poise and pace to control the central part of the field. The plan worked to perfection, with Tellechea causing havoc on the left wing all night long, putting in threatening cross after threatening cross.
In the eighth minute, those persistent crosses paid off when the ball struck an Irvine defender in the hand. When the referee pointed to the spot, star sophomore forward Rodney Michael stepped up to take it, beating the keeper but striking the inside of the left post and bouncing away harmlessly.
Four minutes later, UC Irvine would take advantage of a set piece of its own. After winning a free kick outside of the box near the end line, captain Daniel Crisostomo curled an absolute screamer to the back post, easily over the outstretched hand of Roach to give the Anteaters a 1-0 lead.
The Gauchos continued to dominate the run of play in the rest of the first half and beginning of the second half, but per the trend all season the team just couldn’t seem to find the elusive goal. Too often, Ilskens was isolated up top with no real service. The team looked the most dangerous with either junior Noah Billingsley or Michael running at defenders, but even on those opportunities, the end product was lacking.
On the other side, most of Irvine’s opportunities were coming on the counterattack, but Santa Barbara’s defenders had ensured they couldn’t create any tangible chances, knowing that a 2-0 road deficit against the top team in the conference would be fatal.
When Roach made that giveaway in the 62nd minute — a mistake that allowed Ivan Canales a one-on-one that he easily slotted home — it seemed to be the end of the Gauchos’ chances. The team was also without Tim Vom Steeg, who had picked up his second yellow card early in the second half.
On this night, the team refused to quit. In the 72nd minute, off another good ball from Tellechea, Michael deflected the ball toward the back post, where Ashworth could easily tap in the ball to cut the lead in half.
All of a sudden, Santa Barbara had life. Merely minutes later, Michael beat a defender down the right wing, sending a cross into the box that skimmed past the outstretched hand of the keeper and onto the incoming run of Carson Vom Steeg, who tied the score 2-2.
Neither team was able to create many chances the rest of the game, although Michael did have two potential moves for UCSB in overtime. In the first overtime period, he nearly missed the back post with a curling effort from the left side. In the second overtime period, he ran behind the defense, but great positioning from the Irvine keeper cut off his angle.
Despite the great comeback effort, the Gauchos still find themselves in a precarious situation. Currently, on four points through four conference games, Santa Barbara would be on the outside looking in if the conference were to start today. With their next three matches at home, where they are unbeaten this season, the Gauchos will hope they can capitalize on the momentum they created tonight.
UCSB returns to Harder Stadium on Wednesday, where it will take on a ranked UC Davis squad at 7 p.m.
Brandon Victor serves as a 2020-2021 sports editor. He has covered men’s tennis, men’s soccer and women’s basketball in his three years at the Daily Nexus.