Ben Roach made two top-level saves in the first half and Rodney Michael found the back of the net in the 69th minute to lead the No. 18 UCSB men’s soccer team to a 2-2 draw at No. 25 San Diego on Tuesday night.
Roach stopped a point-blank shot by Aidan Marmion in the 18th and another by Miguel Berry in the 19th. Berry leads the Toreros with seven goals this season that includes four game-winners — which leads the nation.
Roach’s big performance was needed, as the Gaucho back line continued to take hits on Tuesday. Before the match, coach Tim Vom Steeg found out he lost his starting right center back, Faouzi Taieb, for the remainder of the season with a right-ankle injury. Taieb suffered the injury in the second half of Saturday night’s 3-3 tie against No. 1 Stanford.
“Until we figure out how we’re going to keep enough players in the back on the field, Ben’s going to have to do as much as he can,” Vom Steeg said. “It’s crazy, because normally when your goalkeeper plays really well, you get shutouts.
“But where we’re at right now (with a depleted back line), we’re just trying to live to play another day.”
Vom Steeg is expected to get two of his top defenders back for Saturday night’s home game against rival Cal Poly.
Left center back Hunter Ashworth and right back Noah Billingsley have been gone for the better part of a month competing with their U23 New Zealand national team in Olympic qualifying. Both players are scheduled to land at LAX from New Zealand on Saturday at around noon, then be driven up in time for the game.
“That’s the plan,” Vom Steeg said. “Once I know that plane’s in the air, I feel a lot better about things.”
As for Tuesday night, UCSB’s 21st-year head coach was pleased with the draw.
Junior forward Ameyawa Muntari got the Gauchos on the scoreboard with a hard 20-yard shot into the upper-left corner of the goal in the 39th minute for a 1-0 lead. Senior midfielder Thibault Candia earned the assist on the tally that gave UCSB the lead at halftime.
“That was a world-class goal,” Vom Steeg said. “There’s not a keeper in the world that’s stopping that shot.
“He cut to his left and shot that thing just over the keeper’s outstretched hand. It was a very impressive goal.”
The Gauchos had come off an emotionally and physically draining double-overtime game on Saturday night against Stanford.
When San Diego’s Ross Meldrum leveled the match on a rebound in the 49th minute and Freddy Polzer gave the Tororos the lead with a goal in the 54th — also off of a rebound — UCSB could have been dead in the water.
But the Gauchos kept the pressure on in the attacking third of the field. It was pressure that paid off when Michael, who was ill before and during the game, took a pass from Will Baynham, beat the center back and unleashed a 14-yard rocket that deflected off San Diego goalkeeper Matt Wiher’s left glove and into the net for the equalizer.
“I give all the credit in the world to our players,” Vom Steeg said. “We could have easily sat back and said, ‘Pretty rough going here tonight because we’re tired and emotionally spent.’
“We could have given ourselves an excuse to quit playing, but it is a gritty group. It’s a group that competes, and we have attacking options that at any moment can win you a game. We weren’t sharp enough at the very end to win the game, but I thought this group really competed.”
Michael had UCSB’s best chance to win it in overtime when he broke into the 18-yard box along the left side. But his left-footed shot hit the side of the goal.
UCSB lost starting left back Ignacio Tellechea late in the second half with a left-hamstring injury. Vom Steeg said he didn’t think it was serious, but also admitted that there is a chance Tellechea could miss Saturday’s game against Cal Poly.
The Blue-Green rivalry game begins at 7 p.m. at Harder Stadium. UCSB expects a very large crowd. In the past, the game against Cal Poly at Harder Stadium has drawn close to 15,000 spectators.