Everything seemed to go right for the UCSB men’s soccer team in the first half of Sunday night’s game against Utah Valley, with four first half goals leading to the Gauchos’ largest win of the season yet, 5-1.
With its third consecutive win, Santa Barbara is now 4-1-1 on the year, while the Wolverines fall to 2-2-1.
One of the main messages head coach Tim Vom Steeg had for his team following UCSB’s win over Oregon State had to do with starting strong and focused. The Gauchos had narrowly conceded on more than one occasion in the opening minutes against the Beavers on Friday night, but on Sunday, that wouldn’t be the case.
“They’re a dangerous team. We just took advantage of their small size in the box, hit quality balls and scored on a couple set pieces and that broke the thing open,” said Vom Steeg. “We came out with a lot of energy. I know we were fired up to play tonight to start with. It was good to be on the front foot and a good weekend for us, obviously. A lot to build on.”
In the 7th minute, a Gaucho corner kick fell to midfielder Nemo Philipp on the right side of the box. He had time and space to cross it back in with the right foot, and senior center back Henry Davies was wide open to head it in for his first goal of the season.
No more than 40 seconds later, the Gauchos pushed upfield and left back Rigoberto Barragan sent forward Alexis Ledoux ahead with a great through ball. Ledoux attempted to cut it back with a pass towards the top of the box, but it deflected hard right off a Utah Valley player and flew into the top right corner of the goal to make it 2-0.
The Gauchos converted another set piece into a goal in the 23rd. Philipp played it to the far post where midfielder Jared Vom Steeg was able to head it in front of goal. Forward Finn Ballard McBride turned and made the slightest bit of contact with his right foot, bouncing it over Wolverine goalkeeper Jason Smith who couldn’t react in time to keep it out.
A straight red card in the 32nd minute for Utah Valley defender Nate Mefford meant the visitors would be playing a man down the rest of the way, and the Gauchos would continue to capitalize.
Defender Salaudeen Ayinla came off the bench and cut through the UVU defense to find forward Salvador Aguilar in a central position. Aguilar sent it wide into the run of midfielder Sam Fletcher, whose great first touch set up a low cross right back to Aguilar on the edge of the six-yard box. Aguilar’s powerful shot forced a brilliant foot save from Smith, but it popped up to Barragan on the left side who struck a gorgeous left-footed volley inside the near post, giving UCSB a commanding 4-0 advantage.
Utah Valley got in the board in the 57th on a great solo effort by Mark Andros, who reeled it in in midfield before beating a few Gaucho defenders and sending a low shot to the left post while moving to his right.
Philipp capped off a magical day 21 minutes later on a quick corner that he played short on the right wing to midfielder Lucas Gonzalez. Gonzalez laid it back off to Philipp, who set up to cross it towards the far post. However, just like on the own goal in the first half, the ball settled perfectly into the top corner of the goal as if it was intended to.
“I think we’re improving. We’re getting better with our connections, our movements, our interplay,” said Vom Steeg. “I’m liking what I think is the best part for long-term success, and that’s that the partnership between our center backs Johannes Vedin and Henry Davies is really coming together. We’ve been rotating at left back, but our back four is giving us good minutes, and we know what happens up the field where we’ve got four or five really explosive players here. There’s a lot to be happy about.”
– The Gauchos surpassed their season-high for goals in the first half alone. After scoring six times over their first four outings, they have now scored eight times over their past two.
– Goalkeeper Leroy Zeller was outstanding once again, always finding himself in the right spots and ending up with four saves as a result.
– Ballard McBride has now scored in three straight games. He becomes the first Gaucho to reach three goals this season.
– Of UCSB’s 10 shot attempts, nine were on target. The Gauchos’ season-high was six shots on goal entering the night.
The Gauchos played four games in the last 9 days, but they will get a much-needed break this week with five days off before their next contest hosting Grand Canyon on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Harder Stadium.
Michael Jorgenson writes about sports for UCSB.