Apparently there was a spectacular halftime show before the UCSB Gauchos escaped with a 1-0 victory in the first round of the NCAA men’s soccer tournament Thursday night, but the 2,211 spectators at Harder Stadium were unable to see it.
It happened in the Gauchos’ locker room, where head coach Tim Vom Steeg let them know what he thought of their lackadaisical performance in the first half against the Wofford College Terriers.
“I’ve never seen coach so mad, so emotional,” midfielder Michael David said. “He was almost crying. I felt really bad for him.”
Vom Steeg said he was “massively disappointed in our energy, our work rate and our commitment. We played the first half like we didn’t care.” To show he cared, Vom Steeg confessed that he assaulted some inanimate objects. “We need props so I have things to kick,” he said. “Cones are good. Water bottles are good.”
For the visiting Terriers, in an adjacent locker room, the commotion was an ominous development.
“I knew Tim wasn’t happy,” Wofford coach Ralph Polson said. “You could hear it. I knew they’d come out with a vengeance.”
The Gauchos did come out firing in the second half. After taking one feeble shot in the first half, they snapped off 15 shots in second. But most of them were well off target. Senior forward David Walker came closer to hitting the scoreboard with a couple shots than he did to putting a “1” on the scoreboard.
In the 84th minute, Walker got an opportunity that was too good to miss. Michael Tetteh had sent a deep crossing pass to the right. Michael Boxall got to it at the end line and headed it back to the center. It landed 10 yards in front of the goal, between defenders a perfect setup for the onrushing Walker, who slammed it hard and true past the Wofford goalkeeper. “It’s our job to finish stuff like that,” Walker said.
Until then, the Terriers had every reason to feel they might pull a huge upset in their first NCAA playoff game ever. UCSB, the 2006 national champion, was playing its 21st tournament match, at home, against a team that had to travel 2,450 miles from South Carolina. But Wofford was not intimidated.
“We came to win,” Polson said. “We knew [the Gauchos] were going to have to fight for their lives,” said forward Wilson Hood.
Hood almost put the Terriers ahead midway through the second half. He drove a hard ball toward the center from the left wing. It caromed off the head of UCSB defender Tim Pontius and out of goalkeeper Sam Hayden’s reach. “I thought it was going in,” Hood said. “I was about to celebrate.” But the ball fortuitously hit the top of the crossbar and went over. “We could’ve won it right there,” Polson said.
The Gauchos were often their own worst enemies. They misplayed balls back toward their own goal twice in the first half. David and Martin Hedevag cleared them away just before the Terriers got to them. “I was about to shoot myself,” said Boxall, who committed one of the miscues. “I put us under unnecessary pressure.”
But the Gauchos survived as Boxall put it, “We weren’t punished for our mistakes” and they are moving on to a second-round match Sunday (5 p.m.) at the University of San Diego, which had a first-round bye. UCLA and Sacramento State will play the adjacent game in their bracket. The winners will meet in the third round on Sunday, November 29.