[11/15 Update 3:50 p.m.]
UCSB’s first stop on the road to the 2021 College Cup will be at UCLA on Thursday (Nov. 18) at 7 p.m. The Gauchos (12-4-4) clinched their 14th appearance in the NCAA men’s soccer tournament by winning the Big West championship. UCLA (10-6-1) is the third-place team in the Pac-12, which boasts the top two seeds in the tournament, No. 1 Oregon State and No. 2 Washington. The winner between the Gauchos and Bruins will travel to face No. 7 Duke in Sunday’s second round. The 16 seeded teams in the 48-team tournament received first-round byes. UCSB was also unseeded in 2006 when it won the national title, defeating UCLA 2-1 in the College Cup final.
For much of the season, the UCSB men’s soccer team was building toward a victory in the Big West Championship final. When the moment finally arrived, the Gauchos delivered to the tune of a 4-0 victory over UC Irvine on Saturday night at Harder Stadium.
With a RPI of 88 going into the match, UCSB needed a win to claim the automatic berth into the NCAA tournament bestowed upon conference champions to keep its season alive. The do-or-die scenario brought the best out of the Gauchos.
“There was one thing that we talked about the first day of practice, which was this was the group that needs to find a way to get to the Big West Tournament; this was the group that needs to find a way to get two home games, and that’s going to be the road to the NCAA tournament this year,” said UCSB coach Tim Vom Steeg. “We prepared differently this year, honestly. In years past, we’ve gone into [Big West Championships] feeling pretty good that we were already in the NCAA tournament like we were two years ago. I don’t know if that helped to change our focus this year, but we were certainly dialed into tonight.”
Despite success in the NCAA tournament in recent years, this was the first time the Gauchos have won the Big West Tournament since 2010.
“It’s a little bit of a monkey off our back, but again, our goal has always been to make the NCAA tournament,” Vom Steeg said. “I don’t know if we’ve always gone into the championship game with the same mindset.”
Ramses Martinez opened the scoring in the 14th minute off a corner kick that bounced around the box and on to his right foot.
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The early goal was a welcome development for UCSB, who needed double overtime to break a scoreless tie with UC Davis in the semifinal.
In the 44th minute, freshman forward Salvador Aguilar dispossessed an Irvine defender, dribbled into the box, and calmly finished with his right foot to put the Gauchos ahead 2-0.
Less than a minute later, UC Irvine midfielder Oscar Cervantes received his second yellow card and was ejected from the game. The Gauchos played with a man advantage for the entire second half.
In the 54th minute, a corner kick by Caden Vom Steeg found the feet of Henry Davies, who ripped a shot into the roof of the net.
UCSB closed the scoring in the 66th minute with a lethal counterattack. Ramses Martinez sent a through ball ahead to Finn Ballard McBride, who finished off a one-on-one opportunity with the goalkeeper.
The Gauchos will discover their NCAA Tournament fate on the selection show Monday, November 15, at 10 a.m.