Leroy Zeller notched his sixth consecutive shutout to open Big West conference play, and the UCSB men’s soccer team strengthened its grip on first place with a 3-0 victory over UC Davis on Wednesday night at Harder Stadium.
Finn Ballard McBride served as a focal point offensively, scoring two goals, and the Gauchos capitalized on the visiting Aggies’ lack of finishing touch to win comfortably.
“Huge win for us. We have to win our home games in conference and then find a way to get some points on the road,” said UCSB coach Tim Vom Steeg. “We have one more [home] game on Saturday, and if we can pick up that win on Saturday, then we have our last two games on the road and we have to go find a win somewhere in there.”
Injuries and a suspension to Nemo Philipp have forced the Gauchos to rely on depth, youth, and the goal-scoring prowess of McBride to stay afloat.
In the 15th minute, Rigoberto Barragan sent a looping cross into the box. McBride was locked up with a defender but was able to carve out position and get his head to the ball and past the UC Davis goalkeeper for the first goal of the game.
McBride came into the match with a team-high eight goals, and with two more on Wednesday against UC Davis, he is now leading the conference with 10 goals.
Sign up for Indy Today to receive fresh news from Independent.com, in your inbox, every morning.
Trailing 1-0, the Aggies were still hanging around within striking distance into the second half. In the 47th minute, UCSB broke the match open as Thaabit Baartman played a through ball ahead in the box and found the feet of Lucas Gonzalez, who eluded the goalkeeper and scored into an empty net.
“It was a very important second goal that we got, and from there we saw it out,” said Vom Steeg of Gonzalez’s goal.
The Gauchos added another goal in the 74th minute when a cross by Rene Pacheco resulted in a header by Salaudeen Ayinla that was on frame but deflected away right to the feet of McBride, who calmly finished with his right foot, increasing the UCSB lead to 3-0.
UC Davis put incredible pressure on the UCSB goal in the latter stages of the second half, which resulted in 17 shots after the Aggies only managed one shot in the first half, but Zeller stood tall and maintained the clean sheet.
“In those moments, you just have to focus on what you’re good at,” said Zeller of his calm under pressure. “We’re just trying to do our best every game and go from game to game. That’s what I have been doing and what the team has been doing.”
UC Davis had four players from Santa Barbara area high schools, on its roster, including Luke Goodman (Santa Barbara), Cason Goodman (Santa Barbara), Scott Buie (Dos Pueblos), and Hayden Carlson (Dos Pueblos).
Cason Goodman finished with three shots, one of which was on goal, and another narrowly went over the crossbar. Luke Goodman had one shot on goal, and Buie also added a shot.
The Gauchos will host Cal Poly in their final regular-season home game on Saturday beginning at 7 p.m.