Tim Vom Steeg saw his team lose for the first time in seven weeks while incurring a spate of fouls and ejections. “It’s like watching a train wreck,” the UCSB men’s soccer coach said last Friday night.
But on Monday morning, the Gauchos were back on track — recipients of a No. 10 seeding in the 48-team NCAA tournament. They automatically advanced to the second round, to be held Sunday, November 24. They will host a 6 p.m. match at Harder Stadium against either Penn State, the regular-season champion of the Big Ten, or St. Francis College of Brooklyn. Those schools square off Thursday.
The first-round bye is precious to the Gauchos, giving two of their key players — defender Peter Schmetz and forward Achille Campion — a fighting chance of recovering from injuries that have sidelined them for several weeks.
UCSB could have used the 6’6” Schmetz on Friday against Cal State Northridge, which got two goals on headers by Sagi Lev-Ari. The 6’1” forward also scored on a penalty kick, which made the difference in the Matadors’ 3-2 victory in the Big West Conference post-season tournament semifinals. The penalty was one of many adverse calls that darkened the mood of the Gauchos.
On the bright side, there were two beautiful Gaucho goals in an action-packed second half. UCSB’s sensational freshman Ismaila Jome, the instigator of many attacks, sent a ripe ball into the penalty area. Leaping to meet it was sophomore Marshall Cazares, who flicked the ball with the side of his foot inside the near goalpost, tying the score at 1-1.
In the 72nd minute, the Gauchos were awarded a free kick when Cazares was fouled hard about 23 yards from the goal. Goffin Boyoko struck an elegant shot over the defensive wall and out of the goalkeeper’s reach in the upper left corner of the goal.
With a 2-1 lead, it seemed the Gauchos were going to run their unbeaten streak to 12 consecutive matches. But then the wheels fell off. Just a minute after Boyoko’s gem, Kevin Garcia-Lopez’s hand made contact with the ball, a miscue that had cost the Gaucho defender a yellow card in the first half, and now referee Ioannis Stavridis showed him another yellow, then a red card. Vom Steeg disputed whether either hand-ball, having occurred well outside the penalty area, warranted a booking. The Gauchos had 10 players against 11 for the rest of the match, and the Matadors capitalized on their advantage.
Facing defeat in the final minute, UCSB freshman Drew Murphy lost his cool and crudely fouled a Matador, and Stavridis did not pass up the opportunity to show another red card. As Murphy obediently left the field, Lev-Ari mockingly spit at him. The referee did not see that, but it was so obvious that the Big West suspended Northridge’s leading scorer for the first half of Sunday’s conference tournament championship, won by UC Irvine, 1-0.
Everything seemed to work out in the end for UCSB and the Big West. UC Irvine (No. 12) and Northridge (No. 15) also have been seeded in the NCAA tournament. The Gauchos’ defeat enabled them to take the rest of the weekend off, and they were rewarded by the NCAA selection committee for their body of work throughout the season. But they will have to play Sunday without two starters, Garcia-Lopez and Murphy, the consequence of their red cards.
“I’m not certain I want to embrace soccer after all,” a Gaucho fan, raised on American football, told me after Friday’s match. In his view, the referee’s questionable rulings killed the game. In no other sport are a single official’s judgments so impactful. But UCSB has learned that nothing can be gained by angrily confronting a referee. Such incidents in the past brought down suspensions, fines, and disapproval against a program that proudly touts its 2006 national championship and draws big crowds to a stadium that’s been deemed “Soccer Heaven.”
This year’s Gauchos have the maturity to move on. “We have to make sure we don’t get into that situation again,” Boyoko said. “It’s fine. We’re still number 10. Hopefully we’ll get Schmetz and Ach [Campion] back out there.”
In Campion’s absence, Boyoko has emerged as UCSB’s leading striker. The slender six-footer made a statement in the 2-0 victory over Cal Poly that capped UCSB’s regular-season championship. Boyoko scored the Gauchos’ first goal on a header off Murphy’s corner kick, and he set up the second goal by Charlie Miller with a perfectly placed pass.
“Goffin has the biggest soccer brain on the team,” Vom Steeg said. “He knows how the game is supposed to be played.” Boyoko was born of Congolese parents in Paris, France, on June 23, 1989. “I’ve always worn number 23,” he said. He played for the U16 French national team and was an NAIA All-American at Auburn-Montgomery before transferring to play NCAA Division 1 at UCSB last year.
College soccer, with its unlimited substitutions, is different from the game he grew up with, Boyoko said. “You can only have three [substitutions] in Europe. You have to pace yourself for 90 minutes,” he said. “Here, players keep going in and out, and everything is pressure, pressure, pressure, all the time. You’re always going against new players.”
Vom Steeg said Boyoko was injured in a traffic accident before arriving at UCSB. “He was physically broken last year,” the coach said. “He couldn’t keep running up and down.” Boyoko’s playing time is still limited so that he can go all-out when he is on the pitch. Friday’s goal was his eighth of the year.
If the Gauchos can get through Sunday’s match, they expect to be stronger a week later in the Sweet 16, and visions of the magical runs of 2004 and 2006 will start dancing in their heads.
VOLLEYBALL SUCCESS: A basketball double-header Saturday did not turn out well for UCSB. The Gaucho women tied Arizona on Nicole Nesbit’s driving layup with 40 seconds to play, but then they gave up a pair of free throws and lost by two. During warm-ups for the men’s game, Gaucho star Alan Williams suffered back spasms and was scratched from the lineup along with his double-double average (24 points, 13 rebounds). Utah State took advantage of his absence and scored a 71-64 victory. … It seemed like UCSB’s lost weekend until some late-breaking news: The Gaucho women’s volleyball team took over first place in the Big West with a gritty five-set victory at Cal State Northridge. Freshman Ali Spindt (18 kills, 10 digs) was named conference player of the week. The Gauchos stage their final regular-season home stand this weekend — Cal State Fullerton on Friday night and UC Riverside Saturday — then play two on the road for the championship.
WESTMONT EXTRAVAGANZA: Saturday will go down as one of the busiest days in Westmont College sports history. The Warriors will play two national tournament matches and a pair of basketball games. Here’s the lineup:
• 1 p.m.: Westmont, seeded No. 2 in the NAIA women’s soccer tournament with a 15-1-3 record, hosts Westminster (Utah) in an opening-round match.
• 3:30 p.m.: The Warrior women’s basketball team takes on Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.) at Murchison Gym. The same teams met last March in the NAIA semifinals, and Westmont defeated the top-ranked Lions and went on to win the title.
• 7 p.m.: It’s the start of the NAIA women’s volleyball tournament, Menlo College vs. Westmont.
• 9 p.m.: The volleyball net comes down and the hoops go back up for a men’s basketball game between Westmont and Pomona-Pitzer.
SBCC SOCCER: Brandie Harris, who scored a school-record 29 goals for the Vaqueros, was named Western State Conference North women’s player of the year. SBCC also produced the top men’s player in the WSC, midfielder Adam Colton. Both standouts are sophomores.
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