FULLERTON — UCSB’s men’s soccer match at Cal State Fullerton was delayed by 20 minutes on Saturday night because one of the 18-yard boxes was a yard short.
After the game-management folks resolved the problem by painting a new line, the Gauchos measured up the Titans and throttled them, 5-0, at Titan Stadium. Australian striker Will Baynham got the scoring going with a goal in the ninth minute. Frenchman Thibault Candia followed with his fifth of the season in the 13th, and Sierra Leone product Rodney Michael tallied his fourth in the 29th.
The rout was on for No. 19 UCSB, which extended its unbeaten streak to 10 games. It was also the Gauchos’ first five-goal output since 2017, when they whipped Cal State Fullerton, 5-2, at Harder Stadium.
“I thought it could be,” UCSB coach Tim Vom Steeg said when asked if he was surprised his team dominated the No. 14 Titans like it did. “On (their) video, there were a lot of open players.
“I felt like we would get those opportunities on this big field, and we did well to bury the first couple of balls.”
UCSB’s first came off a cross from the right by Michael to Baynham at the back post, who beat Fullerton goalkeeper Paul-Andre Guerin.
The Gauchos (9-2-2, 2-0-0 Big West Conference) had broken down the Titans’ defense on the play, leaving Guerin little chance at stopping the shot. Little did anyone know it would be the theme of the night. New Zealand right back Noah Billingsley collected a career-high three assists, with his first coming on Candia’s goal in the 13th.
Billingsley slipped a well-timed through ball to Candia on the left, who took one touch and ripped a 12-yard, left-footed shot past Guerin, who once again had little chance at making the save,
“We got the ball up the field, which we tried to do the whole game,” Candia said of that particular attack. “Noah got the ball into the attacking end and we had a 3-on-1 with Will Baynham.
“I told Noah to get the ball to me, and he slipped it between the defenders legs. I took one touch and blasted it past the keeper.”
Michael also powered a 20-yard shot that deflected past Guerin for his goal in the 29th.
UCSB stepped on Fullerton’s back-line defenders all night. It was a byproduct of terrific passing and the Gauchos’ own defense, which constantly turned the Titans (8-4-1, 0-2-0 conference) away at one end of the field, and counterattacked them at the other end.
“I loved our approach,” Vom Steeg said. “I’ve been loving our approach for the last several weeks. I feel like Noah and Hunter (Ashworth, UCSB left center back) have returned to the squad with a new sense of purpose, which has pushed us forward.
“We came down here and I thought we were very focused. I think we’ve been very focused. This is a group that really enjoys playing with each other, and we’ve gotten a better understanding of each other, especially up the field. To be fair, I wasn’t entirely surprised with tonight. Maybe I was a little surprised with the five goals, but I wasn’t surprised at what we were able to do.”
Billingsley continued to be the gift that kept on giving, assisting Michael on his forth of the season, and picking up his third assist on Finn Ballard McBride’s team-leading sixth in the 6oth minute. Ballard McBride rifled a 14-yard shot from the right into the back of the net for a 4-0 advantage.
Ashworth, who, like Billingsley, is also from New Zealand, finished the scoring with his first of the season in the 67th off an assist by Candia.
Since Ashworth and Billingsley returned from the New Zealand U23 national team after helping that country qualify for the Olympics, the Gauchos have been on another level. In the three games since the return of its two captains, UCSB has combined to outscore Cal Poly, Sacramento State and Fullerton, 10-1.
“That was amazing tonight,” said Billingsley, who became the first player in the Big West Conference this season to have three assists in a match. “I don’t think we’ve won a game, 5-nil, in my four years being here. That was great to be a part of, and to do it away from home is crazy.”
The Gauchos, who are tied for first in the Big West Conference with UC Davis, also got a terrific performance from goalkeeper Ben Roach.
The former Santa Barbara High netminder made and amazing save on a one-on-one shot by Fullerton’s Rei Dorwart in the seventh minute just before UCSB’s first goal in the ninth.
“Like I’ve said before, we expect that out of Ben, and he gave it to us again tonight,” Vom Steeg said.
Roach finished with four saves.
The Gauchos host UC Riverside on Wednesday at Harder Stadium at 7 p.m.