Under a blanket of fog, blue smoke, and tortillas, the UCSB men’s soccer team virtually stunned the Cal Poly Mustangs on Saturday. Their 2-0 victory over the Mustangs signified a momentous breakthrough in the Gauchos’ previously underwhelming performance against the rivals, marking their first at-home win since 2014 in the blue-green rivalry game.
Remarkably, UCSB’s record at Harder Stadium remains spotless after nine matches. The Gauchos, in addition, successfully boosted themselves from sixth to second seed to conclude Big West regular play, finishing with an in-conference record of 4-2-1 (10-6-1 overall).
Cal Poly essentially had nothing to lose but pride in this particular matchup, as their Big West performance has been lackluster; their regular conference record capped out at one win, five losses, and a draw.
Forwards Sahid Conteh and Kaya Fabretti, who have not seen the scoreboard often this season, each executed routine goals delivered beautifully by Thibault Candia to shut down the Mustangs and secure the monumental win.
Haunted by two years of scoreless home games against the Mustangs, the first 45 minutes forecasted an outcome all too familiar to the Gauchos. Though Santa Barbara seemed to dominate possession-wise, Cal Poly successfully inhibited any balls from crossing over the goal line.
The Gauchos demonstrated a clear cohesion amongst their back, mid, and front lines. Sophomore Hunter Ashworth controlled a majority of the balls in the back, consistently connecting with junior Thibault Candia who then dolled out pass after pass to his fellow forwards up front.
However, the UCSB squad often found themselves unable to execute during pivotal scoring opportunities. Junior Noah Billingsley managed a few promising breakaways that ultimately fell short when the ball failed to find his teammates in the middle of the field.
Despite this, the forward maintained a looming presence over the Mustangs for most of the game. Coming off of his first goal from last game against CSUN, Billingsley looked aggressive and eager to do so once again, delivering dangerous passes into scoring territory.
The Gauchos’ offensive persistence brought SLO’s goalie Simon Boehme into the spotlight. The senior added two incredible saves to his previous 61 in the first half. Most notably, Boehme sprawled out to rob UCSB senior Axel Mendez of a powerful boot fired into the top left corner in the 28th minute.
As expected, Diego Alonso commanded the Mustang’s offense. Responsible for the game-winning shot that sent UCSB home with a distasteful loss earlier in the season, the junior forward continued to outrun the Gaucho midfield and threatened his opponents up top on several occasions.
No first half could have foreshadowed the utter dominance the Gauchos displayed over the mustangs in the second. UCSB put immediate pressure on the faltering SLO defense, launching a total of twelve shots toward their green and gold competitors in the last 45 minutes of the rivalry game.
It took just five minutes for Sahid Conte to fire a low, powerful goal into the lower left corner of the net. Conteh’s success seems long-overdue as the junior has been a threatening presence recently in UCSB’s lineup, tallying three assists so far; this was his first goal of the season.
Santa Barbara didn’t stop here. Ten minutes and another two shots later Kaya Fabretti, who has not seen nearly as much game time as UCSB’s other forwards, found himself in perfect position in the box to receive the ball from Candia and score.
The common denominator between the two goals? Thibault Candia. The Frenchman’s assists set up effortless touches for both Conteh and Fabretti while demonstrated his acute abilities to split defenders and actively find open players.
Cal Poly’s performance slowly deteriorated over the rest of the match. Their offense tallied a few more shots, but ultimately they lacked the energy and aggression that was fueling their opponents.
Most importantly, the Gauchos have both secured the second place spot in Big West regular play and ensured at least another home game coming into the Big West Tournament. They’re set to face off against the Cal State Fullerton Titans at Harder Stadium on Halloween night at 7:30 p.m..