Mikkel Goeling scored his first goal for UC Santa Barbara Men’s Soccer as part of a five-goal second half on Friday night, but the Gauchos (1-2) fell, 4-2, to No. 6 Portland (2-0) at Merlo Field.
Nemo Philipp also found the back of the net on Friday, finishing a planned free-kick routine to bring Santa Barbara within a goal in the final 15 minutes, but the comeback attempt fell short.
Forward Salvador Aguilar, Santa Barbara’s top returning goalscorer, played 25 minutes in his first action back from injury on Friday night.
A first-minute Pilot goal put the Gauchos down, but they were by no means out of the match, as Santa Barbara actually grew into the game and created the majority of the chances in the early going.
Alexis Ledoux nearly connected with a through ball from Philipp early on, and the pair linked up again just before the 10-minute mark, with Ledoux setting up a shot which Philipp blasted right at the goalkeeper.
As the first half carried on, the Gauchos continued to ascend. With the exception of a few Portland breakaways, UC Santa Barbara spent much of the first half (an hour) in possession and on the attack.
The Pilots did put the ball in the back of the net for a second time off one of those breakaways, but it was called back for offside to keep the hosts’ lead at only one.
The second half began as the first ended, with momentum on the Gauchos’ side.
UC Santa Barbara held the majority of the possession again for the first 15 minutes out of halftime, but neither team attempted a shot until just before the hour mark, when Goeling’s attempt cleared the crossbar.
Goeling also got the first attempt on target in the second half, and it was the equalizer. The Dane arrived at the back post to meet Jorge Aldana’s cross and level the match with a powerful header in the 63rd minute.
In a surprising twist, after the Gauchos equalized it was Portland who grabbed the momentum. The hosts scored twice in as many minutes and fired off a handful more shots.
They would have had a fourth goal in the 70th minute if not for Andrew Kamienski making a block on the goal line to keep the hosts out.
Santa Barbara fought back in the final 15 minutes, starting by reaching into their set-piece playbook.
The Gauchos thought they had a penalty kick in the 75th minute but were instead handed a free kick right on the edge of the penalty area, where they executed a pre-planned routine.
After multiple Gauchos feigned taking the kick, Nico Willumsen blasted a shot off the post, and Philipp was in the perfect position to smash home the rebound and cut the Pilots’ lead to one.
Santa Barbara fired a flurry of shots goal-ward in the late stages of the half, with Goeling, Rene Pacheco and Aguilar each missing by the finest margins, but it was Portland that scored the final goal of the night, converting on a breakaway to ice the match in the 86th minute.
The Gauchos will return home on Monday, Sept. 4 at 7 p.m. to face UNLV at Harder Stadium. For fans unable to make it to the stadium on Monday, the match will be live on ESPN+ with live stats available through ucsbgauchos.com.