The UCSB men’s soccer team had a roller coaster of a weekend as they outlasted the UNLV Rebels for their first win of the year on Friday night, and only 48 hours later took their first loss of the season against the No.16 Virginia Tech Hokies.
The Gauchos are now 1-1 on the season, the Rebels sit at 0-1 and the Hokies end their West Coast road trip at 2-0.
The Friday night matchup against UNLV was a battle of attrition for the Gauchos, and although they ended up with the 2-1 win in double overtime, they suffered some big injuries that will certainly impact the team these next couple weeks.
Freshman defender Lucas Gonzalez got the first start of his career at left-back after playing great in both of the exhibition games prior to Friday. The LA Galaxy product is a promising prospect for UCSB, giving the team some speed and goalscoring ability in the backline. He started off playing great against the Rebels however in the 8th minute he contested a ball in the air and awkwardly landed on his ankle when he came down. This took him out of the game, and could hold him out for an extended period of time.
His injury sucked the life out of the Gauchos early in the game, but their defense held strong for most of the first half. The Rebels had their best goalscoring opportunity in the 44th minute when junior midfielder Marcos Gonzalez rocketed a shot off the post, and the Gauchos actually went into halftime leading 55-45 in possession even though they hadn’t played their best soccer yet.
UCSB came running out of the gates for the second half, and in the 47th minute looked to have their first goal of the regular season when forward Rodney Michael sent a perfect chip to a wide-open Thibault Candia in the box. Candia was one-on-one with goalkeeper Enrique Adame, yet the midfielder whiffed on the volley leading to an easy save.
The inability to convert in the final third was a concerning theme for the Gauchos for the first 87 minutes. There were three plays in the first ten minutes of the second half alone where UCSB had the ball in the box with a clean look that they couldn’t put in the back of the net, and although chemistry and sharpness will surely improve as the season goes on, the team really can’t afford to keep missing opportunities if they want to win.
The second major roadblock for the Gauchos came in the 54th minute when senior defender Faouzi Taieb left the game with an apparent hamstring injury. Taieb is a key player both on offense and defense for UCSB, and with him out for the next few games the team will have to put that much more effort in on both ends to keep things running smoothly.
As the game wore on and injuries piled up for the Gauchos there was a huge momentum swing in favor of the Rebels. Starting in the 63rd minute UNLV had an almost 20-minute stretch of straight up pressure on the UCSB defense, until the 80th minute when freshman Hayden Prasad curled in a cross which forward Bryan Martinez-Serrano headed home.
The goal was a wake-up call for the Gauchos, and they turned on the jets themselves, eventually leading to an Ignacio Tellechea strike in the 87th minute past the Rebels goalkeeper’s outstretched arms to send the game into overtime.
UCSB almost put the game away in the first four minutes of OT when junior transfer Ameyawu Muntari was brought down in the box, however Michael sent the penalty kick that they were awarded soaring over the bar. Finally with just three minutes left in the second overtime period, forward Will Baynham got to play hero for the Gauchos when he knocked in a loose ball in the box to give them the 2-1 victory.
It was a quick 48 hour turn-around for the Gauchos as they had to face off against a tough Virginia Tech team on Sunday night.
UCSB struck first in this game in the 4th minute when Muntari took the ball down the left wing and sent a cross in that took a slight deflection off of a Hokie defender and found the back of the net. The Ghanian transfer from Santa Barbara City College has been a pleasant surprise early on this season, using his speed and technical ability with both feet to create a ton of opportunities on offense.
It was all downhill from there for the Gauchos however, as Virginia Tech would go on to score three unanswered goals to win the game 3-1. Senior Jon Ingason would be the one to open up the scoring for the Hokies in the 7th minute as he struck a free kick from 25 yards out into the upper right corner of the goal.
The second goal would come in the 65th minute when senior forward James Kasak, who just terrorized the depleted Gauchos backline all game long, crossed the ball into the box and UCSB defender Hunter Ashworth’s attempted clearance rocketed into the back of the net for an own goal.
While the last goal for the Hokies in the 74th minute, a tap-in by forward Jacob Labovitz after a Ben Roach free-kick save, essentially put the game out of reach, the setup to the free kick actually had larger implications.
Virginia Tech was awarded a free kick only because of a frustration foul by Ashworth after a verbal altercation with Hokie forward Brendan Moyers. The Gauchos have struggled with keeping a lid on their tempers before, but they really can’t afford to give up set-pieces and fouls out of anger, especially with Taieb out for the foreseeable future.
Although they let their emotions get the best of them on Sunday night, UCSB will look to get back on track this Saturday when they take on UC Berkeley at Harder Stadium.