Nov. 10, 2007
FULLERTON, Calif. - After Cal State Fullerton took a 1-0 lead in the 65th minute, No. 10 UC Santa Barbara got late scores from David Walker and Alfonso Motagalvan to complete a thrilling comeback and defeat Cal State Fullerton 2-1 Saturday night at Titan Stadium. The Gauchos clinched a share of the 2007 Big West Conference Championship with the win and need just a tie in their final two matches to win the title outright.
The defending champs claimed their second consecutive Big West crown and fifth overall since the conference reinstated men's soccer in 2001. UCSB will advance to a sixth consecutive NCAA Tournament, which begins November 23-24. Santa Barbara maintained its two-game lead in the league standings and improved to 8-1-1 with two matches remaining. The Gauchos have been playing their best soccer of the season over the last several weeks and improved to 11-3-3 with their fifth straight win.
"We hung in there tonight and I'm proud of our guys," head coach Tim Vom Steeg said. "We found a way to win a close game and that's obviously very important heading into the postseason. The team worked very hard this year and had to make it through a very difficult conference schedule to win the conference title. We've got two more games next week though."
UC Davis defeated Cal Poly 3-2 earlier in the day to move into a second place tie with the Mustangs in the hunt for share of the championship. Santa Barbara owns tiebreakers over both schools in the event of a tie.
Like several teams before them this season, the Titans fell victim to a Gaucho offense that is capable of scoring at a frenzied pace. UCSB's two goals came just 4:24 apart in a match that came one week after the Gauchos scored three times in a span of 5:09 to defeat Cal Poly 3-1 at Harder Stadium last weekend.
After Fullerton defender Shay Spitz scored his team-leading fifth goal to give the home team a 1-0 lead on a feed from German Moreno, UCSB responded with the equalizer 10 minutes later. A ball was deflected to Walker at the corner of the box and the sophomore midfielder looped his second goal of the season over the head of Titan goalkeeper Brent Douglas at the 74:42 mark.
The Gauchos kept the pressure on and found the net again in the 80th minute. Motagalvan was positioned at the near post on a Santa Barbara corner and redirected Ciaran O'Brien's low line drive kick past Douglas for the eventual game-winner with a little more than 10 minutes remaining.
The junior midfielder has scored four goals this season.
UCSB's dramatic comeback came with just 10 players on the field after senior defender Greg Curry received a red card at 73:47 when he pulled down the Titans' Gabriel Farfan from behind on a breakaway. The Gauchos also trailed 1-0 in wins over UC Irvine and the Mustangs last week.
Fullerton appeared to have the upper hand for much of the game. Santa Barbara didn't log a shot for the first 20 minutes and was out-shot 10-4 in the first half.
Each team had a couple of close calls in the first 60 minutes. Junior midfielder Chris Pontius' header, Douglas, and a Titan defender all came together at the near post in the second minute of the second half. Freshman keeper Bryant Rueckner made two tough saves -- going high to stop a Skyler Thuresson shot late in the first half and then deflecting a crisp free kick from Amir Shafii 10 minutes into the second.
Rueckner finished with six saves, while Douglas had four for Fullerton.
Santa Barbara has now defeated Fullerton eight straight times, with the last four coming by a single goal. The Titans saw their record against conference opponents fall to 2-6-2 and 7-9-2 overall.
The Gauchos don't have to wait long to take the field again and and try to claim the Big West crown all to themselves. UCSB returns to the pitch Tuesday afternoon at Cal State Northridge in a match that was originally scheduled for October 10. Kickoff is slated for 1:00 p.m.