In front of a raucous student section, the No. 18 UCSB men’s soccer team made plenty of its own noise on the field against rival Cal Poly on Saturday night.
Carter Clemmensen scored on a header in the 33rd minute and the Gauchos added two more goals in the second half for a 3-1 win over the Mustangs in front of 9,748 in attendance at Harder Stadium.
Most of UCSB’s biggest crowd of the season was made up of students, who have been enrolled in school for a little more than a week.
The Gauchos extended their unbeaten streak to eight games with six wins and two draws.
“It was a lot of fun tonight, in a way, because we had tremendous support from our students,” UCSB coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “They kept coming (into the stadium), and we were able to get a goal in the first half, which was a huge part of what we wanted to do tonight.”
Clemmensen scored on a header at the back post off a service from the right from Rodney Michael to give the Gauchos a 1-0 advantage.
With Cal Poly’s defensive-minded style of play, Vom Steeg wanted his team to counter with a lot of service into the 18- and 6-yard boxes. UCSB attempted to do that on a number of occasions early in the match, but a lot of the Gauchos’ service attempts were low and easily cleared by the Mustangs.
Michael elevated his service to Clemmensen, with the help of a deflection off Cal Poly left back Freeman Dwamena.
“We had not lifted any of the balls,” Vom Steeg said of UCSB’s early service. “We put a big emphasis on crossing and serving and getting into wide areas. We knew they would be compact, so we worked really hard (in training) on getting balls wide and then having service.”
The Gauchos’ second goal came in the 53rd with a lot of help from the Mustangs, and it came on another cross.
Junior forward Rodney Michael broke in from the right and served a hard, low ball in the direction of Clemmensen, who was in front of Cal Poly goalkeeper Carlos Arce-Hurtado. But the ball never made it to Clemmensen. It was an own goal after Mustangs center back Josh Graham deflected it past his keeper and inside the near post for a 2-0 UCSB lead.
Although Clemmensen didn’t score on the play, his presence in the Mustangs’ 6-yard box caused enough of a disturbance that resulted in a crucial mistake by Graham.
“When I see Rodney running one-on-one out wide, Tim told me to always be ready for a ball to come across the 6,” Clemmensen said. … “I just tried to make the run to the near post (on the own goal) to clear it out or maybe tap it in.
“(Graham) beat me to the spot and I think he was trying to clear it out wide, but he hit it into the back of the net.”
UCSB was cruising until the 80th minute, when Cal Poly substitute forward Angel De Leon tapped the ball over the goal line with his right foot on a rebound to cut the deficit to 2-1.
But any chance at a Mustangs’ comeback ended when Gaucho freshman midfielder Finn Ballard McBride hit an exquisite 23-yard shot while moving from his left to his right. Ballard McBride struck it across his body and inside the far post for the game-clinching goal.
“I thought the third goal was really important to kind of finish the game and not finish it like trying to hang on,” Vom Steeg said. “We were able to finish it on an offensive note, something else we’ve been talking about.”
UCSB received a big boost when junior center back Hunter Ashworth and senior right back Noah Billingsley returned to the team in time for the match.
The two landed at LAX at noon on Saturday and drove up to Santa Barbara for the game after spending nearly a month with their New Zealand U23 team, which qualified for the Olympics with a win on Friday.
Ashworth was asked if he and Billingsley were mentally and physically exhausted from playing the day before and traveling almost 20 hours to get back for the match.
“This is the only place in college soccer you get this kind of atmosphere, so knowing that I was getting on a long flight to come and play in front of that, I think I had the energy,” Ashworth said. “Once the adrenaline hits and you kick off, you kind of forget about being tired. It was a great night for Gaucho soccer.”
UCSB opens Big West Conference play on Wednesday against Sacramento State at Harder Stadium at 7 p.m.