James Kiffe served up a ball that said “kick me,” and Luis Silva was happy to oblige. Silva’s golden goal gave UCSB a 3-2 overtime soccer victory over Akron on Wednesday night at Harder Stadium.

The winning goal came just 33 seconds into the overtime period, much to the relief of the players who had been running nonstop for 90 minutes in the wide-open, see-saw game. “I’m happy it’s over,” Kiffe said. “I was cramping. Silva was cramping.”

Kiffe took matters into his own feet. He received a pass on the left flank, dribbled to the end line and cut inside through a thicket of Akron defenders. He doggedly stayed on the bouncing ball and sent it across the mouth of the goal, and “Sure Shot” Silva rammed it home.

It was Silva’s second goal of the night. His first came 18 minutes into the second half and lifted UCSB’s spirits after a week of frustration. After a first-half goal at UC Riverside, the Gauchos had gone four halves without scoring, while suffering consecutive Big West losses to UCR and UC Irvine, and falling behind Akron 1-0 at halftime. Darren Mattocks, a dangerous and high-scoring forward, put the defending national champions in the lead.

Silva tied it up with a clean shot from 10 yards out after a cross from Dom Sarle. Three minutes later, Sarle put the Gauchos ahead 2-1 with a nifty poke after Josue Madueno’s header redirected a cross by Kiffe to his feet. The Zips retaliated just two minutes later on a bang-bang play, Thomas Schmitt collecting the goal off a pass from Aodhan Quinn.

The sudden overtime ending stunned the Zips, who had given up only four goals in nine previous games. They lost for the first time this year – their record is now 7-1-2 – and for the first time at Harder Stadium, the site of their College Cup victories over Michigan and Louisville last December.

“I wanted to play them last year,” Kiffe said. UCSB would have met Akron in the third round of the 2010 NCAA tournament, but an overtime loss to Cal knocked the Gauchos out of the bracket. Wednesday night’s victory, televised nationwide by the Fox Soccer Channel, improved the Gauchos’ record to 7-3-1 and gave them a boost in confidence for the rest of their conference schedule.

“This shows the character of our team,” said Kiffe, a senior out of San Marcos High School. “We had a little adversity to overcome.”

“What a great game,” UCSB coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “The guys really rallied around that loss to Irvine. They had positive energy, even after being down to Akron in the first half. It was about staying after it. Even the guys who didn’t play stayed after it.”

Vom Steeg made only two substitutions, one out of necessity when standout midfielder Machael David was unable to continue after 25 minutes because of a hamstring injury. Nic Ryan played well in his place, enabling Vom Steeg to keep Silva in a forward position.

The attendance of 4,340 was disappointing. Rain earlier in the day undoubtedly had affected the turnout. The night was clear, if a bit cool, but that did not stop Silva from pulling off his jersey a la Brandy Chastain when he scored the game winner. It was fitting for such an exciting game to end with goose bumps.


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