UCSB hopes to break the NCAA soccer attendance record of 12,224 on Wednesday night (Nov. 6) with the condition that the fans behave in a responsible fashion.
In a message on the Gauchos’ Web site, new athletic director Mark Massari says, “I’m reminding our students, student-athletes, coaches, staff, and all fans (home or visitors) that our games will be loud, passionate, and a tough place to play for the competition, but our games will also be safe for families and proper behavior will be the norm, not the exception. This is The Gaucho Way.”
When the match between UCSB and Cal Poly at Harder Stadium begins shortly after 7 p.m., Gaucho coach Tim Vom Steeg will be more concerned with one man on the field than thousands in the stands: the referee. Steve Elliott, who officiated last Saturday night’s game - a 3-1 victory by UC Irvine over the Gauchos - caused Vom Steeg considerable grief.
“Angry is not a sufficient word to express how I feel,” Vom Steeg said. “I need a new adjective.” He was incensed over the referee’s handling of an incident midway through the first half.
With the Gauchos leading 1-0, junior forward David Walker made a spectacular run from the defensive end of the field toward the opposite goal, leaving Irvine defenders in his wake. Walker, the fastest UCSB player, was steaming into the penalty area when Shane Westbrook of the Anteaters pulled him down from behind.
The laws of international football explicitly state that a player shall be shown a red card - ejected from the game - if he “denies an obvious goal-scoring opportunity to an opponent moving toward the player’s goal by an offense punishable by a free kick or a penalty kick.”
It was obvious to everybody in the stadium that Walker had a golden opportunity to finish off his run with a goal, but the referee issued only a yellow card to the offending Irvine player, allowing the Anteaters to remain at full strength. The referee also gave Irvine a break by awarding a free kick rather than a penalty kick to the Gauchos. It was obvious Walker went down inside the penalty area, and according to FIFA (the international soccer governing body), “a foul may begin outside the penalty area and conclude inside the penalty area - in which case, the referee should award a penalty kick.”
“I was five yards inside the box,” said Walker, who displayed a bloody scratch on his torso where the Irvine defender grabbed him. “The referee made a poor decision.”
The decision cost UCSB a likely goal and a 2-0 lead. Jon Curry‘s free kick - which, unlike a penalty kick, was obstructed by a defensive wall - was easily controlled by Irvine goalkeeper Andrew Fontein.
But the Gauchos had only themselves to blame for defensive lapses that allowed the Anteaters to score twice before halftime and take a 2-1 lead. The second half was an exercise in futility, UCSB managing to get off only two shots, and Spencer Thompson scoring Irvine’s third goal on a breakaway in the final minute.
Freshman Peter McGlyn scored his first goal as a Gaucho in the sixth minute of the match. Senior Chris Pontius, the team’s leading scorer with 12 goals, was shut out for the first time in five games.
Irvine’s victory snapped the Gauchos’ four-game winning streak and tightened up the Big West Conference standings, with only two points separating the top three teams. Cal Poly (5-2-2) is in first place after a 2-0 upset of UC Davis on Sunday, and UCSB (5-2-1) is in second. The Mustangs, who lost 1-0 in overtime to the Gauchos in front of a San Luis Obispo crowd of 11,075 last month, will try to return the favor and clinch the home field advantage in the upcoming conference tournament.
The Gaucho men, who conclude the regular season at Davis (4-2-3) on Saturday, still could win their sixth league championship or finish as low as fourth place.
Groups of five or more people can get special tickets for $3 per person in advance of Wednesday’s game. The UCSB ticket office in the Intercollegiate Athletics building will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
WOMEN’S PLAYOFFS: UCSB’s women will host Cal Poly in the Big West soccer tournament semifinals at 7 p.m., Thursday (Nov. 6). The Gauchos clinched second place in the conference by defeating UC Irvine 4-0 in their regular-season finale Sunday.
In the Golden State Athletic Conference women’s tournament, Westmont College earned a home game in the quarterfinals. The Warriors will face Concordia at 2 p.m., Tuesday (Nov. 4) at Russ Carr Field.