The bright lights of the NCAA Tournament stage brought the best out of the UCSB men’s soccer team.
Thibault Candia and Will Baynham contributed second half goals that broke open a tight contest as the Gauchos defeated Cal 3-1 in a first round match on Thursday night at Harder Stadium.
“We were coming off a really bad game where we did not run and did not compete very well against (UC Davis) and I do think that the guys internalized that and used it as a motivational factor,” said UCSB coach Tim Vom Steeg. “It’s anyone’s game when it’s 1-1 in the second half of an NCAA Tournament game.”
With the victory, UCSB avenged a 3-0 loss to the Golden Bears on Sept. 7th and advance to a second round match at St. Mary’s on Sunday.
The Gauchos opened the scoring in the 18th minute when Candia threaded a through ball into Rodney Michael, who calmly finished with a right-footed shot.
UCSB appeared destined to take a 1-0 lead into the locker room at halftime, but Cal made the most of a corner kick in the 39th minute as Christian Gomez collected a loose ball in the box and delivered the equalizer.
“We made three or four adjustments and the guys that came at the end of the first half did a great job and I think added to that flurry over the last 15 minutes and ultimately getting the tying goal,” said Cal coach Kevin Grimes. “I think at halftime we really felt great about the position we were in.”
The match turned in UCSB’s favor in the 65th minute when Michael was fouled in the box by Cal goalkeeper Drake Callender setting up a penalty kick. Candia stepped up to the moment, took a slow approach to the ball and placed a low right-footed shot to the left of Callender, who dove in the wrong direction, giving UCSB a 2-1 lead.
“I just had to focus on my kick and be confident because I knew that it wasn’t only about me, but for the team it was a key moment for us,” Candia said. “Tim (Vom Steeg) trusted me and it was my duty to score on the (penalty kick).”
On the ensuing action, Cal came up with a good opportunity a goal from deep in the box, but Ben Roach delivered a massive save to preserve the lead.
The Gauchos add an insurance goal in the 73rd minute. The Gauchos earned a corner kick and Noah Billingsley sent the short corner to Candia, who passed back to Billinglsey, who then crossed the ball to Baynham for the goal, increasing the UCSB lead to 3-1.
Roach came up with two more key saves in the final ten minutes to help the Gauchos survive and advance to the round of 32.
“The last time we were here was 2015 so it’s been a while. All of these seniors haven’t played in it so it meant the world to us to make the tournament,” Roach said. “Now we just have to get back to the drawing board and reset for St. Mary’s.