Salvador Aguilar turned in a big offensive performance in Saturday's win. (Jeff Liang / Courtesy UCSB Athletics)

The UC Santa Barbara Men’s Soccer team earned a come-from-behind victory over UC Riverside on Saturday night, with a pair of goals from Salvador Aguilar giving the Gauchos a 2-1 win.

It was a momentous night for “Chava” Aguilar, as it was his first time finding the back of the net since an ACL injury cut his 2022 season short.

It was a momentous night for the Gauchos too, as UC Santa Barbara now climbs into a tie for second place in The Big West standings, alongside their next opponent, Cal State Bakersfield.

It’s a huge win, especially since we gave up the first goal,” UCSB coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “We battled back, and to be honest, I thought we had three head balls to put the game away.

“But we had to battle, we competed, we had to find a way to defend our box, keep some balls out, so I couldn’t be happier. “

The match began with a back-and-forth rhythm, UCR pressing high up the pitch and the Gauchos finding ways to break the press, but it took until the 20th minute for either team to register a shot.

When the first shot finally came, it brought the game’s first goal. A UCR cross from the end line found a Highlander who was just too wide open to miss in the middle of the penalty area, and he fired home to put the visitors in front.

That only fired up the Gauchos, who started firing away. In the 10 minutes following UC Riverside’s goal, UC Santa Barbara out-shot the Highlanders, and the Gauchos started to assert more control over the match.

In the 40th minute, they were rewarded with an equalizing goal. Off a corner kick, the ball (and a few players) bounced around in front of the UCR goal before Aguilar got his foot to it and knocked it into the net.

It was by no means the prettiest goal of his career, but it got his team level.

“You know, we had such an emotional game up at UC Davis, and then coming back at four in the morning on that bus trip and a day and a half later, we’re out here,” Vom Steeg said. “So, a lot of credit to the players to rebound from that first goal.”

As an extra bit of good news, that corner kick had been served in by Nemo Philipp, who made his return from a hamstring injury on Saturday night, albeit playing limited minutes.

The Highlanders fired a few more shots before the end of the first half, but none of them found the target and the teams went into the locker rooms all square.

When they came out for the second half, the Gauchos immediately went on the attack. They earned two corner kicks in the first five minutes, and Aguilar had a shot blocked before he found the net for his second goal of the match.

Caden Vom Steeg spearheaded the defensive effort in the victory. (Jeff Liang / Courtesy UCSB Athletics)

In the 51st minute, Caden Vom Steeg played a long cross to the back post from around 25 yards out, still putting the ball in a perfect spot for Mikkel Goeling to head it back in front of goal, where Aguilar was waiting.

He had enough space and time to take a touch, then smashed the ball into the bottom corner for close range.

Vom Steeg’s pinpoint cross was just part of a fantastic night for the Gaucho right back, who put together a combined offensive and defensive performance that Coach Vom Steeg called “probably his best game as a Gaucho.”

Caden’s defensive excellence was necessary in the final half hour of the match, as UC Santa Barbara worked to hold on to their one-goal lead.

They had plenty of chances to increase it, taking nine shots in the second half, but ultimately the game was decided by the defense.
Vom Steeg and the back line of Haruki Utsumi, Timon Windisch and Pablo Figueroa kept the UCR offense at bay, sometimes only barely, hurrying to clear out some goal-mouth scrambles, but they held.

Tactical fouls and time-wasting saw five Gauchos go in the book, but in the end, they claimed all three points.

UC Santa Barbara will stay at home for their next match, hosting Cal State Bakersfield on Wednesday, October 11 at 7 p.m.

The Gauchos and Roadrunners are currently tied for second place in The Big West standings, the last of two spots to earn a first-round bye in The Big West Championship in November.