The UCSB men’s soccer team suffered yet another brutal postseason loss in the first round of the Big West Conference, this time to the No. 6 Cal State Fullerton Titans. While the two squads were tied 1-1 at the end of regulation and overtime, UCSB ultimately dropped the match 5-4 in penalty kicks.
The Gauchos ended the season with a 4-2-1 conference and 10-7-1 overall record, while the Titans jumped up to a 2-3-2 conference and 8-5-7 overall record, and now move on to the second round to face off against UC Riverside.
Although the result doesn’t reflect it, UCSB actually dominated this game from beginning to end. After a hectic first few minutes, the Gauchos were able to settle down and set the tempo of the match.
Forward Thibault Candia stepped up early on, and was able to connect on a few crosses that the other Gaucho attackers were not able to put home. It was actually the Titans who struck first as sophomore Christian Pinzon leaked out on a counterattack and knocked in a left-footed dribbler off the post in the 23rd minute.
The goal actually seemed to energize the UCSB offense, and they responded with a beautifully set-up shot by junior Ignacio Tellechea two minutes later. Thibault Candia was able to sneak by multiple Fullerton defenders on the right wing on the lead up to the goal, and sent a hard cross right by the goalie which Tellechea easily slotted into the upper left corner.
“It was a collective goal, a collective play,” said Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg. “You might say [the set-up to the goal] kind of looked easy, ‘why didn’t we do more of it?’ I guarantee you that there were four or five times where another pass like that could have found somebody open.”
As the half wore on however, it seemed like the Gauchos had the game in the bag. They more than doubled the Titans shot attempts in the first period, and faced almost no pressure in their own half.
The lone bright spot for the Titans to start the second half was freshman Zico Bailey. The midfielder at times seemed to be the only player capable of creating a play for Fullerton, and his energy on the offensive end helped his teammates conserve theirs for defense.
The Gauchos still maintained control of the game throughout the second half, and wide open misses by forwards Rodney Michael and Ignacio Tellechea in the 47th and 53rd minutes seemed to be leading up to an inevitable goal. This goal never came however, and UCSB faced an overtime matchup for the second year in a row.
“If you follow Gaucho soccer, scoring goals this year has always been an issue for us,” explained Vom Steeg. “And that didn’t exactly go away.”
Once again the Gauchos dominated the ball to start off overtime. Sophomore Rodney Michael missed a few good opportunities to put the game away, including a one on one with only four minutes left against Fullerton goalie Paul-Andre Guerin which he skied to the right. As he laid on the floor for a few seconds after, it seemed like the first cracks were appearing in the Gauchos’ armor just as penalty kicks were set to start.
Even so, UCSB had an opportunity to put the game away in PK’s. Big West Co-Freshman of the Year Ben Roach was close to making a few stops for the Gauchos, yet a miss over the bar by Tellechea eventually dashed any hopes they had of advancing. At the end, it was the Titans who had a fairy tale ending at Harder Stadium.
Although it would have been great for UCSB to advance deep into the Big West tournament, especially because of the fact that Harder will be host to the NCAA Championship game in December, the Gauchos ultimately should hold their heads up high. A combination of solid conference play with explosive young talent will make this team dangerous for many years to come.
Quotes courtesy of KCSB Sports/Arthur Wilkie
A version of this story appeared on P. 6 of the November 1st print edition of the Daily Nexus.