Tim Vom Steeg has been a master at planning and making the right moves to help his team win games as the coach of the UC Santa Barbara men’s soccer team over the last 25 years.
On Saturday night, Vom Steeg won his 300th game at UCSB, as the Gauchos gave their best all-around performance of the season and blanked Cal Poly, 2-0, at Harder Stadium in their final non-conference game
While the milestone wasn’t planned to happen on this night, it couldn’t have come at a better time during what has been an up-and-down non-conference campaign.
It was done at home against Blue-Green rival Cal Poly, in front of a season-best crowd of 7,032 during move-in weekend on campus.
There were chants being shouted, thunder sticks clapping and tortillas flying in a party scene that’s been customary at UCSB soccer home matches during the Vom Steeg era.
“I stole a line from (retired) volleyball coach Kenny Preston: ‘That means I’ve been around a long time,’” Vom Steeg laughed when asked about winning 300 games at his alma mater. “I guess I’ve been around a long time. Three hundred… that’s a lot of games.
“But it was really special today because of the way we played and to do it against Cal Poly in front of a crowd like this. Nothing against losing in Riverside the other night (at Cal Baptist). I was driving home, going, ‘If I’m going to win 300, it might as well be against Cal Poly at home.’”
The Gauchos treated their coach and fans to solid outing. Newly appointed captain Alexis Ledoux ran his Cal Poly defender ragged on the left side and set up both goals.
“He came up to me after the last game and said, ‘I know I can play a lot better for you,’” said Vom Steeg. “But he also realized we’re missing (injured) Nemo (Philipp) and Lucas (Gonzalez). So he’s the guy that has to make it happen for us.
“We put him in a really good spot on the field, where they had to match him up, and the poor kid just couldn’t stay with him.”
On the first goal, Ledoux beat his defender on the left side of the box and flipped a pass back to Jorge Aldana in the middle. Aldana smartly headed the ball forward to Nico Held Williumsen for the put-away in the 18th minute.
“I know we need players to be there, so I just played it there and my boy Aldana was there and played it to Nico who put it in,” said Ledoux of the combination play.
He set up the second goal in the 54th minute with a blast that Cal Poly goalkeeper Justin Siegel dived to knock away at the far post. That created a corner kick opportunity, and the Gauchos cashed it in for the second goal.
Siegel tried to punch the corner kick away in a crowd of players, but the ball went right to UCSB’s Nalu Mack who slammed it into the back of the net for a 2-0 lead.
“This is amazing,” said Ledoux of playing in front of the big crowd. “It’s the only place in college soccer where this happens. Really grateful for our fans. They’re really pushing us to be better, to play harder. We’re so thankful for them.”
He sported a blue thunderbolt on the side of his bleached-blonde hair.
“I had to do something special for Cal Poly,” he explained of the look. “That’s our big game. It’s the blue-green rivalry, so the blue-gold is here. It was special.”
Cal Poly, playing under first-year coach Oige Kennedy, a former assistant at perennial power Stanford, tested the Gauchos, who entered the game having allowed 21 goals in eight games.
The back three of Caden Vom Steeg, Johannes Vedin and Haruki Utsumi played well and goalkeeper Leroy Zeller was in top form to earn the clean sheet.
UCSB dodged a couple of bullets on well-struck free kicks in the 50th and 51st minutes. The first one was taken from 20 yards and was blocked by the wall. On the other, the Gauchos were able to head it away.
Seven minutes later, Zeller raced off his line to smother a shot by Cal Poly’s Jackson Kestler, who broke in on a through pass.
Zeller denied Kestler again in the 65th minute, diving to snare a flash header to the far post.
“Leroy finally gave us the performance we were used to seeing last year,” said Vom Steeg. “On our back three, it was great to finally have Johannes back, so our defense should start being better now. It’s different team than we what had the first eight games, when we were bleeding goals all over the place.”
Now comes Big West play this week, with the Gauchos (5-4) opening at UC San Diego on Wednesday before returning home next Saturday against UC Irvine.
After Saturday’s performance against Cal Poly, Vom Steeg feels his team is ready for the rigors of conference play.
“It’s interesting that sometimes it just takes a little while for things to fall into place,” he said. “But I also felt like tonight, from our warm-up to the locker room, it was a really focused team. It felt like a playoff-type game for us.
“Tonight, it’s hard to pick out a player who didn’t play well. Their assignments were good, we were picked up and, in the end, offensively we’re always going to be dangerous. We finished off tonight well.”