Nov. 3, 2007
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - In the most-anticipated Big West Conference match-up of the season, the 12th-ranked UC Santa Barbara men's soccer team scored three goals in a 5:09 stretch in the second half to defeat No. 15 Cal Poly 3-1 in front of a record crowd of 8,102 Saturday night at Harder Stadium. Chris Pontius, Andy Iro, and Ciaran O'Brien recorded goals as the Gauchos won the clash of the conference frontrunners.
Cal Poly set a new Big West regular season record with 7,143 fans in attendance for the Mustangs' 2-1 win over the Gauchos in San Luis Obispo October 17, but that mark did not last long, as even more packed Harder Stadium for the rematch Saturday night.
"Our fans are absolutely amazing and we had no doubt they would come out in full force for this one," head coach Tim Vom Steeg said. "The crowd was a huge factor for us and the place went wild when we scored our first goal...I'd like to thank everyone that came out to support us tonight. It means so much to this team."
With the victory, UCSB moved further ahead of Cal Poly in the conference standings, taking a commanding six-point lead with three games remaining. The Gauchos are narrowing in on a fifth Big West championship since 2001 and currently sit atop the league standings at 7-1-1. The win was Santa Barbara's 10th this season and the defending NCAA National Champions are now a very impressive 10-3-3 overall.
The defeat was the first for the Mustangs in conference play this season and just the second in 2007 overall. The Mustang's record now stands at 9-2-4 overall and 4-1-4 against league foes.
Eager to take the field against the last team to beat them and the only Big West squad to hand them a loss this season, the Gauchos looked sharp from the outset and went on to post a 8-4 shot advantage in the first half. But despite dominating play for the first 45 minutes, it was Cal Poly that struck first in the 38th minute.
After a ball bounced out of the box off of a Gaucho defender, midfielder Jose Garcia collected it and sent a curling shot up over goalkeeper Bryant Rueckner's head into the middle of the net for the early 1-0 advantage.
UCSB failed to capitalize on its chances and went into the locker room trailing.
The Gauchos quickly turned things around in the second period, netting the equalizer at the 59:11 mark. Senior midfielder Brennan Tennelle sent a ball forward for 2007 M.A.C. Hermann Trophy Candidate Eric Avila just inside the box. Eluding several Mustang defenders, Avila worked a beautiful give-and-go with senior forward Tino Nuñez, who then fed a charging Pontius for the score and his conference-leading ninth goal of the season.
The goal was Pontius' first since he netted the game-winner against Cal State Fullerton in the 78th minute October 6.
Energized by the tying score and the roar of the Harder Stadium faithful, Santa Barbara came right back and took the lead with another goal in the 64th minute. After a corner kick on the left side, the ball was cleared out and O'Brien tracked it down. The reigning Big West Player of the Week served it back into the box towards Iro, where the three-time All-American used his 6-foot-5, 220-pound frame to win the ball in a crowded box. Iro finally got a shot off and punched it past Cal Poly keeper Eric Branagan-Franco from five feet out.
The Liverpool, England native could not have picked a more opportune time to score his first goal of the season, lifting UCSB to victory after he was forced to sit out the first meeting between the two schools serving a red card suspension. Cal Poly scored two goals on seven shots in Iro's absence.
The Gauchos were not finished yet and treated their fans to one more goal just 32 seconds later. After a shot by junior midfielder Alfonso Motagalvan hit the top of the crossbar and bounced back into play, O'Brien raced up the right side to track it down and slipped a bending shot just inside the left post from 20 yards out on the right flank.
O'Brien has now scored in each of the last four matches - all Santa Barbara victories - and leads the Big West with 22 points this season. He is second on the team behind Pontius with seven goals and leads the squad with eight assists.
The Mustangs did their best to get back into the game, but it was not meant to be. Their best opportunity came in the 71st minute when Rueckner was whistled for a foul in the box and Cal Poly was awarded a penalty kick. Defender K.J. Lenehan lined up to take it and went right, only to be denied by a tremendous diving save by Rueckner.
UCSB out-shot Cal Poly 16-9 for the game and held a commanding 6-1 advantage on corner kicks in a game that was well played throughout.
"This was a huge win for us tonight," Vom Steed added. "Obviously it was important for our goal of winning the Big West, but we also felt that we had a great chance at stealing one from them at their place and didn't. We talked about what we needed to do against a very good team all week and we went out and did it in front of a great crowd."
Santa Barbara returns to the pitch next Saturday, November 10 at Cal State Fullerton. The Gauchos and Titans will square off at 7:00 p.m.