The UCSB men’s soccer team outlasted the Westmont Warriors 1-0 in their first exhibition match of the season.
Although this was the second year in a row that the Gauchos were able to win the annual Bryant and Sons Cup matchup between these two Santa Barbara teams, this game couldn’t have been any more different than the 7-0 blowout a season ago. The two teams combined for 28 fouls, 10 yellow cards, and one red card in what turned out to be an extremely chippy “friendly” match.
The match started out rocky, but not due to any bad blood between the two squads.
Because of NCAA guidelines, both teams only had around three practices with their full coaching staff prior to the game, which meant that the chemistry and crispness that comes along as the season progresses really wasn’t there for either side.
UCSB opened up the match by sending a few long-balls over the top to star forward Rodney Michaels, compensating for their lack of technical sharpness by attempting to take advantage of their speed at the forward position. Westmont held strong however, and came out of the gates playing an extremely physical style of defense that actually managed to stifle the Gauchos for most of the game.
This aggressiveness came back to bite them pretty quickly however, as in the 9th minute of the game a questionable foul call on the Warriors gave the Gauchos a free kick about 22 yards out from goal. Senior midfielder Thibault Candia stepped up and sent a perfectly curled ball to the back post which senior defender Faouzi Taieb headed home after leaping over the Westmont defense, giving UCSB and Taieb their first goal of the year.
As the first half wore on, a couple of patterns began to emerge that would continue to play out until the final whistle.
The Gauchos would typically maintain possession on their side of the pitch, but just couldn’t complete the final pass once they got into the attacking third. Westmont was more than happy to stay back and aggressively cut off passing lanes hoping to create some fast-break opportunities.
One such opportunity arose in the 20th minute when Warriors’ midfielder Jose Vargas intercepted a sloppy clearance by senior Kaya Fabretti on the Gauchos’ side of the pitch. Vargas seemed to have a clear path to goal but Fabretti raced back to make a tackle and eventually push the ball up-field.
UCSB just seemed to be a step too slow throughout the whole game, although how much of it was rust and how much was simply underestimating their NAIA opponent can’t really be calculated, and the Westmont D led by the stone wall that is senior defender Tim Heiduk made sure that openings were few and far between in the first half.
The Gauchos came out of the locker room in the second half with a revamped intensity, partially sparked by the play of freshman Lucas Gonzalez. The LA Galaxy Academy product was all over the pitch in his first official game for UCSB, playing with not just energy but also a surprising composure that will potentially earn him more minutes as the season wears on.
Gonzalez set up Candia with a beautiful pass in the 48th minute that led to a cross into the middle that was easily cleared by a Warrior defender. This clearance would prove to be significant however, as it went out to Westmont’s Justin Nakaoka who was then fouled and shoved by Kaya Fabretti. A small scuffle ensued when Jose Vargas came running and shoved senior forward Ignacio Tellechea to the ground, and eventually Fabretti, Vargas and Tellechea all received yellow cards.
The scuffle seemed to serve as a spark plug for both teams, as the intensity of the match drastically increased right after. This culminated into one of the more exciting sequences in the game in the 70th minute.
Westmont midfielder Samuel Toscano intercepted a bad pass in the back-half and streaked across to the right side of the box leaving nobody between him and UCSB goalie Alan Carrillo. He then sent a wild cross in that somehow ended up at the feet of Rodney Michaels, who took the ball the entire length of the pitch the other way and sent a perfect pass to a wide-open forward Carter Clemmenson who banged the ball off the near post.
While the last twenty minutes did have a few close opportunities for both teams, the most interesting part might have been junior defender Omari Fontes’ five minutes of action. He entered in the 80th minute, received a questionable yellow card for a seemingly mundane tackle one minute later, then was ejected in the 85th minute after getting another yellow card for shoving a Westmont player in the back. The Gauchos were then forced to play out the rest of the game with ten men, but they eventually came out with the win.
It’s tough to draw too many conclusions from an exhibition match but UCSB does need to be weary of a few things moving forward. Problems with creating goals and finishing offensive sequences in the final third have haunted this team since last season, and were a big reason that they couldn’t advance further in the Big West Tournament. While rust and a lack of chemistry definitely played a role in this last game, there will have to be a quick return to form for the Gauchos as they prepare for a tough upcoming slate of games including matchups against UNLV, CAL, Virginia Tech, and Gonzaga.