The good fortune for the UCSB men’s soccer team ended in misfortune when Oscar Cervantes scored in overtime to give UC Irvine a 2-1 win on Saturday night at Harder Stadium.
It was a result that brought the Gauchos’ 11-match unbeaten streak to an end, and one that also allowed the Anteaters to leapfrog UCSB into first place in the Big West Conference with 10 points. Santa Barbara (10-3-2, 3-1-0 conference), with nine points, is tied for second place with UC Davis —- the Gauchos’ next opponent on Wednesday in Davis.
UC Irvine (6-4-5, 3-0-1 conference) scored the first goal of the match in the 42nd minute after Kelvin Neumetzler took out UCSB’s Sam Fletcher on a questionable tackle in midfield. After Fletcher lost the ball, Victor Falck raced it into the attacking end of the field, where he laid it off to Eder Oliva, who took a shot from 10 yards on the right.
Somehow, with Gaucho goalkeeper Ben Roach out of position, UCSB center back William Gillingham stopped the shot with his right heel. But it deflected back to Falck, who fired it into an empty net for a 1-0 Irvine lead.
After his team was outplayed for most of the first half, Gaucho coach Tim Vom Steeg was hoping to get into halftime with the game scoreless.
They missed it by three minutes.
“It was very unfortunate, because you hope you can come out of the first half where you don’t play well,” he said. “I was hoping to get into halftime zero-zero, then regroup a little bit.
“I definitely thought we played better in the second half. We made a few adjustments. We did some things a little bit better. We got the tying goal, but then extremely, extremely disappointed at what happened in overtime.”
UCSB leveled the match in the 68th minute when senior midfielder Thibault Candia converted a penalty kick after his teammate, Ameyawu Muntari, was taken down in the 18-yard box.
Harder Stadium, which was pretty much of a sleepy bag up until the Candia goal, was alive and well with enthusiasm.
When time expired in regulation, Vom Steeg took a conservative approach in overtime — hoping to at least go home with one point for a draw.
Irvine, instead, created a turnover in midfield in the 95th minute. Cervantes collected the ball, dribbled straight through the middle of the field into the Gaucho end, and fired a 20-yard shot that hit the left post and ricocheted into the back of the net for the game winner.
UCSB played most of the second half without speedy forward Rodney Michael, who left with a left-knee injury, and midfielder Kaya Fabretti, who left with an undisclosed injury.
All of that factored into the Gauchos’ first loss since Sept. 7.
“You’re down Kaya, you’re down Rodney, you’re just down bodies,” Vom Steeg said. “Consequently, I just wanted to get out of the game.
“If we got a goal (in overtime), that would be great. If not, then we finish with a tie. We’ve been very focused and disciplined at doing that this year. But we didn’t do it in overtime, and it cost us.”
After UCSB tied the score in the 68th, it had a golden opportunity to win it in the 76th.
After Muntari sent a service from the right into the 18-yard box, senior forward Will Baynham collected the ball on his right foot and unleashed a 12-yard shot that Anteaters goalkeeper Ford Parker stopped with a terrific diving effort to his right. It was UCSB’s last great chance at a goal.
“There’s a fine line between winning and losing, and we’ve done just enough in every single game during our streak,” Vom Steeg said. “The problem is, as we’ve been going along here, we just keep losing players.
“And then at some point, it just catches up to you. … There were just a lot of small things that added up to being inefficient, offensively.”
Vom Steeg was asked about Michael’s left-knee injury, and his status going into the final three regular-season games, all on the road.
“Obviously, Rodney is a huge concern,” he said. “The initial indication is that it’s not necessarily something that is major, but at this point in the year … we’re at a limited schedule here, which is not very good news for us.”
The match was very physical, with 35 combined fouls being called and seven combined yellow cards being dealt out. UCSB committed 26 of the 35 fouls, and senior midfielder Sahid Conteh picked up his fifth yellow card of the season, which means he will sit out the UC Davis match on Wednesday on the five-card accumulation rule.
UCSB celebrated senior night before the match by honoring 11 players.
Unfortunately for the Gauchos, they couldn’t celebrate another win.