For the first time in nearly a decade, UCSB and Cal will meet in a men’s soccer match in the NCAA Tournament.
In 2010, the Gauchos lost a controversial second-round overtime game in Berkeley, during which a late second-half handball in the box was called against UCSB. It allowed the Golden Bears to score the tying goal before they won it with a goal in the first 10-minute overtime session.
This time around, the Gauchos (12-4-4) will host Cal (8-6-3) in the first round on Thursday at Harder Stadium at 7 p.m. UCSB learned its postseason fate on Monday morning during the NCAA Selection show. The players and coaches let out a collective roar when they saw they were hosting Cal.
UCSB coach Tim Vom Steeg was Ok drawing the Golden Bears — which will be the second time the two teams have met this season — in the first round. It was another Pac-12 opponent Vom Steeg wanted nothing to do with in the first round.
“The one team that I thought you don’t want to play is Stanford (at their place) in a playoff game. To be honest with you, I think everyone else is beatable,” Vom Steeg said. … “When you don’t have Stanford as your next game, I always feel like everybody else you can play.”
UCSB will have three of its top defenders that it didn’t have when Cal won, 3-0, on Sept. 7 at Harder Stadium.
Center backs Faouzi Taieb and Hunter Ashworth are back in the Gaucho lineup, as well as right back Noah Billingsley — who was named the Big West Conference Defensive Player of the Year this season. Taieb was hurt when UCSB and Cal played in early September, and Ashworth and Billingsley were gone with their New Zealand U23 team playing in Olympic qualifying matches.
“I do think that we have a little bit of a chip on our shoulder with what happened with Berkeley (on Sept. 7),” Vom Steeg said. “I think there’s some natural motivation on our part because of that game, and how that game went.
“We can talk about how we didn’t have some of our players and this, that and everything else, but it’s a team I think I’m pretty familiar with.”
The winner of Thursday’s UCSB-Cal match will play No. 12 seed St. Mary’s in Moraga on Sunday.
The Gauchos were hoping to earn a top-16 seed, which would have meant a bye in the first round and a home match in the second round. All of that went by the board, however, when UCSB lost to UC Davis, 2-0, in the Big West Conference Tournament championship match on Friday in Davis.
Both the players and the coaches admit it was the team’s worst performance of the season.
“We had an opportunity up in Davis to avoid doing what we have to do, and that’s playing in the first round, and (if we win) having to play at St. Mary’s,” Vom Steeg said. “That could have all been avoided with the game up at Davis.
“Look, we didn’t do it, so we’ll just have to go about it the harder way.”
Cal got into the tournament by winning its final two Pac-12 matches against nationally ranked Washington and Stanford.
UCSB, which has never played its first match of an NCAA Tournament on the road, is making its 13th appearance in the national championship tourney — all under Vom Steeg.
“Being able to continue the season is obviously what we set out to do,” senior forward Will Baynham said. “We get to go at a team that did us over in the first few games of the season.
“It’ll be interesting to play them again now that we’ve got our whole team back and we’ve found our identity and how we want to play.”
UCSB was never in the Sept. 7 match against Cal.
The Golden Bears scored 45 seconds after the opening whistle, added their second goal in the 14th minute, and capped the scoring with another goal in the 39th. All three goals came from defensive breakdowns in front of goalkeeper Ben Roach, who finished with three saves.
“We were missing pretty much the heart and soul of our team with Hunter and Noah being off with their national team, and Faouzi being hurt,” said Roach, who has 10 shutouts this season. “It’s definitely going to be big time that we have them back. I think, defensively, we’re going to be a lot more solid. We’ve also come along way since then.”
UCSB is 11-2-4 since its loss to Cal.