No coach or player wants to lose a game.
That’s stating the obvious.
But, as the history of sports has shown, some losses end up benefiting a team in the long run. For UCSB men’s soccer coach Tim Vom Steeg, it’s doubtful he’ll ever get over the Gauchos’ bust at UC Davis on Nov. 15 in the Big West Conference Tournament championship match. He still references the stinker of the season to his team — even showing clips of the debacle as recently as Tuesday during a video session.
While Vom Steeg left Davis without a Big West Conference Tournament trophy, and with a strong measure of frustration, that match, when the Gauchos couldn’t connect three passes in a row to save their lives, probably saved their season.
Vom Steeg was able to hit the reset button with a team that had played so well up to that point. It’s hard to do that when things are going well, but Vom Steeg took aim at his players, his coaches and himself after the devastating loss.
“We all know, when you win games, you settle into a routine,” UCSB’s 21st-year coach said. “Nothing jolts a team like a loss, and in that case it happened to come right before the playoffs.”
Since then, the Gauchos have won three straight NCAA Tournament matches over Cal, No. 12 seed St. Mary’s and No. 5 seed Indiana — the last two on the road. During the three games, UCSB outscored their opponents, 8-1.
It’s why the Gauchos are in the Elite Eight on Saturday at Wake Forest, and why the loss at Davis might have been the best thing that could have happened to them.
“Normally, you don’t get a wakeup call in the championship game of the Big West Tournament, but that was, of course, a wakeup call,” Vom Steeg said. “We did not compete at the level necessary to win.”
When UCSB returned to the field after being humbled by the Aggies, it was a performance against Cal on Nov. 21 that was reminiscent of the type of team the Gauchos have been all season.
They dismantled Cal to the tune of a 3-1 victory. They went to Moraga and throttled St. Mary’s, 4-0. The Gaels had lost one match in the last two seasons prior to getting their lunch handed to them by UCSB. THe Gauchos then stunned the college soccer nation when they rode into Bloomington, Indiana on Sunday and got a second-overtime goal by Will Baynham to stun the Hoosiers, 1-0.
Indiana hadn’t lost at home in 38 matches dating back to 2016.
After the loss at Davis, the Gauchos have played three of their best matches of the season — something they hope to continue on Saturday at Wake Forest for the right to go to the College Cup.
“Obviously, we got kicked in the teeth at Davis, but we got that bounce-back game against Berkeley, and I wasn’t surprised with how well we played in that one,” Vom Steeg said. “I actually think the best game we’ve put together since the Davis loss was at St. Mary’s against that team.
“Then of course at Indiana, we just battled, and the team gave a great effort.”
Vom Steeg admitted that losing the chance to win the program’s first Big West Conference Tournament title since 2010 might have been a byproduct of a team feeling too good about itself after enjoying so much success to that point.
“I think what’s happened since the Davis game has been a little bit of an attitude adjustment,” Vom Steeg said. “We had gone with a set lineup game in and game out, and then we got stale in that game.
“You usually don’t upset the apple cart if you’re winning, but with that loss, as a coach, it freed me up to think outside the box and go with some different things. I think those changes have really helped us.”
If UCSB beats No. 4 Seed Wake Forest, the Gauchos will remain in North Carolina for the College Cup in Cary, N.C., which gets underway with the semifinals on Dec. 13. The match against Wake Forest is scheduled to begin on Saturday at 2 p.m. (PST), and will be shown on the ACC Network.