The UC Santa Barbara men’s soccer team took two wins in the Big West Conference against rivals the UC San Diego Tritons and the California State University, Northridge Matadors on Sept. 28 and Oct. 1. 

UCSB player sends the ball flying. (Nexus File Photo)

Wednesday night’s conference opener for the UCSB men’s soccer team was a battle of the defenses. The Gauchos — a team averaging 2.18 goals a match — were limited to one goal in their win over the UCSD Tritons. The Tritons are a defensive-minded team, only conceding 8 goals in 9 matches ahead of the contest, which made scoring opportunities difficult for the Gauchos. To add insult to injury, the team was without their leading striker, sophomore Salvador Aguilar, who suffered a season-ending ACL tear. Luckily, head coach Tim Vom Steeg’s team has enough depth to cover for any decommissioned starters.

The Gauchos had difficulty finding a way through the Triton defensive line throughout the match but found a breakthrough from red shirt sophomore Lucas Gonzalez — who was the dominant playmaker for the Gauchos in the match. Gonzales found sophomore forward Rene Pacheco, who then sent a through ball to junior midfielder Nemo Philipp in the 18-yard box. A Triton defender caught Philipp’s leg and brought him down, awarding the Gauchos a penalty. Junior forward Finn Ballard McBride took the responsibility and put enough power on the shot to power it through the outstretched hand of goalkeeper Dominic Peters.

The Gaucho defense frequently sacrificed their bodies, stepping in front of shots to alleviate pressure on junior goalkeeper Leroy Zeller. Zeller earned a clean sheet with 3 crucial saves in the second half. The Triton’s best chance on goal met Zeller with a fast break at the top of the box and was saved with a quick outstretched leg. His efforts assured the 1-0 win for the Gauchos. 

Saturday night’s game was an entirely different story. The match was a 4-0 rout of California State University, Northridge that saw the Gauchos at the top of their game in all aspects. Offensive possession and playmaking was clinical, defensive coverage was coolly composed and goalkeeping was impenetrable. 

The first goal was a fortunate one for the Gauchos. Pacheco sought to center the ball into the 18-yard box, but the leg of a Matador defender deflected the ball into the near post before the keeper could react for an own goal in the fourth minute of play. McBride showed an excellent display of skill for his solo goal just 3 minutes shy of halftime. McBride orchestrated a flashy spin move at the touch line to pass one defender, avoided a tackle and bypassed another Matador to rocket a tight-angled shot into the top of the net. In the 54th minute, Pacheco received a pass from freshman midfielder Dominick Phanco in the center of the Matador defense and, after one touch, curled a shot into the top right corner from about 20 yards out. McBride netted his brace 20 minutes later after a Matador defender attempted to clear the ball on the goal line. The ball fell into the feet of McBride, who redirected the ball back into the net. He now sits second in the league in goals scored with 6 in all competitions.

The Gaucho back four consisting of Jorge Aldana, Henry Davies, Caden Vom Steeg and Timon Windisch played with composure under pressure. Nearly every Matador attack was swiftly stopped with almost a visible swagger. Zeller picked up where his defense fell with 4 saves and a clean sheet on the night. He ranks second in the league for saves and best goals against average.

The Gauchos will travel for their first conference away game and will look to continue their undefeated streak at CSU Bakersfield on Oct. 5 at 7 p.m.

A version of this article appeared on p. 13 of the October 6, 2022 print edition of the Daily Nexus.