It was no small feat for UCSB to come back from a 2-0 deficit against Cal‘s All-America goalkeeper Stefan Frei and score two late goals to send their NCAA men’s soccer tournament game into overtime.
It was no big surprise that a defensive lapse gave Cal an easy goal in OT and abruptly put an end to a frustrating Gaucho season.
“That’s been our Achilles heel all season long,” UCSB coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “We gave them two goals.”
Cal’s Andrew Wiedman took advantage of misplayed balls by the Gauchos, scoring an unassisted goal in the 60th minute to put the Golden Bears ahead 2-0, and ramming another short-range shot past UCSB keeper Trond Helge Takset two minutes into the second overtime period for the 3-2 victory.
Cal (12-3-5) advances to the third round against No. 2 seed Maryland. The Gauchos (10-7-5) went 0-3-3 in the last month of the season, their longest winless streak since 1998 – a year before Vom Steeg took over as their coach.
Even-numbered years had been propitious for the Gauchos – they went to the NCAA final in 2004 and won the national championship in 2006 – but this year was decidedly uneven. Cal put a blemish on their perfect 8-0 record in NCAA matches at Harder Stadium, and UCSB also failed to win a game for the first time in its seven consecutive appearances in the tournament.
The Gauchos were an attacking team that routinely outshot their opponents – Tuesday night’s shots were 24-12 in their favor – but opposing goalkeepers came up with heroic saves against them, while they rarely made a defensive mistake that didn’t cost them dearly.
Frei, who wants to play goalie someday for his native Switzerland, made 11 saves on the rainy night. The Bears’ two-goal lead seemed secure as the clock ran down to the last 23 minutes of regulation time. But Vom Steeg knew his team, despite its flaws, was not going to go down without a fight. The Gauchos stunned Cal by scoring twice in a two-and-a-half-minute span. Martin Hedevag snapped a header past Frei on a ball nicely centered by freshman Michael Tetteh, and then Tetteh punched a 20-yard free kick that found its way through Cal’s defensive wall into the corner of the net.
“I’m very proud of our effort in the second half,” Vom Steeg said. “We were looking for the third goal, but it never came.”
It almost came when David Walker cracked a ball from 30 yards out in the final seconds of the first overtime. The 6’3″ Frei leaped up and caught the ball just under the crossbar. “My gloves were soaked, and it was right on my fingertips,” Frei said. “It scared me for sure.”
Persistent rain showers made the field slippery, but the players said it had no bearing on the outcome. A hardy crowd of 1,754 attended the match.
Three seniors played their last game for the Gauchos – forward Chris Pontius, who scored 14 goals this year and and 29 in his career, the fifth highest total by a Gaucho; Nick Perera, another forward known as “Belgium” who will always be remembered for his goal and assist in UCSB’s 2-1 victrory over UCLA in the 2006 NCAA final; and midfielder Alfonso Motagalvan. Another senior, defender Kyle Kaveny, went out with a broken leg at the start of the season. He might have been a missing piece of the puzzle.
“I feel bad for our seniors,” Vom Steeg said. “We were so good up front with Belgium and Pontius.”
Motagalvan said, “For the three of us, our career has been up and down. The sport gives us life lessons, tough losses and great wins. At the end of the day it makes us great people.”
SBCC WINS AGAIN: Sophomore forward Mark Knight continued his scoring rampage for the City College men’s soccer team, ringing up two goals in a 3-0 victory over Santa Ana on Tuesday night at La Playa Stadium. The win sends the Vaqueros (20-4), winners of 13 straight games, into the third round of the state playoffs at top-seeded Mt. San Antonio this Saturday. Knight has scored 31 goals this season and 59 in his two years at SBCC.
STATE VOLLEYBALL: Long road trips for the first round of the CIF State Volleyball Championships took a toll on the Santa Barbara High and Dos Pueblos girls. In Fresno, Clovis West prevailed over Santa Barbara by scores of 25-21, 11-25, 24-21 and 25-20. Dos Pueblos also took a game against La Costa Canyon, the nation’s top-ranked team, but the Carlsbad girls won on their home court, 25-15, 19-25, 25-20 and 25-8.