After a frustrating evening in Orange County, the UC Santa Barbara Men’s Soccer team will have to return home and gear up for postseason play quickly.
After a 2-0 loss at Cal State Fullerton, the Gauchos finish as the No. 3 seed for The Big West Championship, meaning they will host their first-round match against No. 6 seed UC Riverside on Wednesday, November 1.
“We did not play well enough to win the game (tonight),” Vom Steeg said. “It was really disappointing.”
The hosting Titans needed just a draw to secure the top seed in the conference tournament, and they controlled the match early, owning the lion’s share of possession and chances in the first 10 minutes.
The first shot of the contest would not come until the 15th minute though, and it was the Gauchos’ turn to attack.
Nemo Philipp drilled a low worm-burner of a free kick toward goal from about 30 yards out, but it deflected off a Fullerton defender and rolled just wide. Santa Barbara had another chance in the 23rd minute, but Kavi Kirshnan’s through ball was just the tiniest bit too heavy for Lucas Gonzalez to get to before the Titan goalkeeper.
Fullerton’s keeper was in action again in the 29th minute, catching Mikkel Goeling’s flicked header comfortably after a corner kick.
Just as the Gauchos were building this momentum, the Titans scored their opening goal, capitalizing on a counterattack to take the lead.
From there, the hosts were content to slow the game down, allowing Santa Barbara to have as much possession as they wanted, but not affording the Gauchos any quality scoring chances, and the teams went into halftime with the score 1-0 in favor of the home side.
The second half began largely the same way the first ended, with Santa Barbara getting plenty of time on the ball but having to face a stout Titan defense.
Gaucho goalkeeper Leroy Zeller did his part in the 53rd minute, making his finest save of the evening to deny Fullerton a potential second goal after a counterattack.
Philipp fired a long-range shot wide a few minutes later, but then the Titans would end up getting their second goal of the game. The hosts were awarded a penalty kick in the 59th minute and converted, doubling their advantage.
Fullerton did nearly play their way into trouble in the 63rd minute, when their goalkeeper raced out of his penalty area to clear a loose ball but hit it poorly, playing it right to Philipp.
The German shaped to shoot on the open goal, albeit from a good distance and tough angle, but his attempt was blocked.
Needing three goals in less than 30 minutes, the Gauchos surged forward in the game’s closing stages, monopolizing the scoring chances for the rest of the evening.
In the 74th minute, a cross led to a loose ball in the penalty area, but Fullerton’s keeper slapped it away from Santa Barbara players three times to survive the threat. Two minutes later, Filip Basili hit a wonderfully curled shot that narrowly sailed wide of the top corner.
As the minutes ticked away, the Gauchos had a very strong case for an 86th-minute penalty kick when Gonzalez appeared to be shoved over in the Titan penalty area off the ball, but no whistle came.
Goeling fired a line-drive shot in the 89th minute that would likely have only been consolation, but the Titan keeper saved it anyway.
No. 3 seed UC Santa Barbara will host No. 6 seed UC Riverside in the first round of The Big West Championship on Wednesday, November 1 at 7 p.m. from Harder Stadium.