Gauchos Shut Out St. John’s in Season Opener

Ben Roach (Photo by Eric Isaacs)
Ben Roach (Photo by Eric Isaacs)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Carter Clemmensen scored the first goal of his collegiate career and Rodney Michael added a goal of his own as the new-look UC Santa Barbara men's soccer team opened the season with a 2-0 shutout victory over St. John's on Friday night at Harder Stadium.

The Gauchos are now unbeaten in their last eight season-openers, with seven wins and one draw, which came last year against St. Mary's. The win also marked the first victory in UCSB program history against St. John's, albeit in just three meetings, as the Gauchos get redemption from a 2-1 loss to the Red Storm last season.

"The first game of the season is always the hardest one, and getting a win is always a challenge," said head coach Tim Vom Steeg, who is in his 20th season and now one win away from 250 for his career. "I felt like our players were prepared, and very good this early in the season knowing where we want to go with the ball and what we want to do with the ball. I thought defensively we were very solid all night and then we got one big save from Ben (Roach) when we needed it and that got us the shutout. All around, I'm very, very pleased with the opening of tonight's season and pleased we were able to get this result."

After a back-and-forth battle for possession in the early going, with neither team taking control, the Gaucho attack finally materialized in the 23rd minute, nearly amounting to the first goal of the match. Ignacio Tellechea played a ball in to Noah Billingsley right in front of the six-yard box, but had his shot deflected by the keeper in a desperation dive. The ball landed at the feet of Thibault Candia, who patiently reared back and fired, but the St. John's defense lined the goal and cleared the ball away for the team save.

UCSB would ultimately break through, however, just before the half. In the 41st minute, Hunter Ashworth took a throw in from the left side near the end line. The 6-foot-5, Laguna Beach native launched the ball into the box where freshman Clemmensen leaped up and got just enough of the ball to head it into the net.

It was the first career goal for Clemmensen, the Gatorade Arizona High School Player of the Year who, with 114 career prep goals, has shown a knack for finding the back of the net.

A fellow Gatorade Player of the Year and no stranger to scoring goals, Michael picked up where he left of last season with a dazzling score to start the 2018 campaign. The pair of Sierra Leone natives connected in the 71st minute as Sahid Conteh played a ball up to Michael, who ran it down and proceeded to make three defenders fly by as he cut to his left and finished with his left to give the Gauchos a 2-0 lead.

The Red Storm tried to cut the lead in half nearly immediately following the goal, but freshman keeper and Santa Barbara High School product Ben Roach made a sprawling save to preserve the shutout.

Overall, UCSB outshot St. John's 12-5 and held a 4-3 advantage in corner kicks. Billingsley played a strong match and tied for game-high honors with three shots while Axel Mendez and Candia tallied two apiece. Roach earned his first career shutout and victory and finished with two saves on the Red Storm's only two shots on target.

"I've got a deep bench with guys that got a lot of minutes last year," said Vom Steeg. "Consequently,the recipe you saw tonight, is hopefully one that we can continue. We defend well, we're very dynamic on the break, we're going to control our 18-yard box, and now we just have to be in a position where we keep it going on Sunday."

UCSB (1-0) will look to continue its home cooking this Sunday, Aug. 26 with a designated non-conference match against Big West foe UC Riverside at 7:00 p.m. at Harder Stadium.

UCSB hosts the 2018 College Cup at Harder Stadium in December and season tickets as well as College Cup packages are on sale now and can be found online here or by calling the UCSB Athletics Ticket Office at 805-893-UCSB.