UCSB Offense Stalled by Pilots

Noah Billingsley (Photo by Eric Isaacs)
Noah Billingsley (Photo by Eric Isaacs)

PORTLAND, Ore. – Facing its first road test of the season against a talented Portland team, UC Santa Barbara could not find the back of the net, despite its many chances, and fell 1-0 to the Pilots in front of a raucous crowd of 3,213 at Merlo Field on Friday night.

The Gauchos (2-1-0) drop their first game of the season while Portland (2-0-1) remains unbeaten with the win in the Top Drawer "Top-5 Match of the Week" that pitted two teams receiving votes in the latest national poll against one another.

UCSB put pressure on the Pilots' defense early and often as Noah Billingsley and Thibault Candia created great looks in the opening minutes of the match, but Portland's goalkeeper was in position at every turn to thwart the Gauchos' attack.

In the 31st minute, however, it appeared that Santa Barbara was finally able to break through. Rodney Michael and Sahid Conteh started the play on the right wing with a crisp give-and-go. Conteh proceeded to dish the ball to Billingsley running through the middle of the box, and the New Zealand native tapped the ball past the keeper into the net, but was called offside on the play.

Portland, who generated all five of its corners in the first 45 minutes, began to snatch up the momentum, but the two teams would head into the break all knotted up at zero.

The Gauchos opened the second half of play the same way they started the first by peppering the goal. Michael and Axel Mendez kept the keeper on his toes with absolute lasers on frame, but were once again denied.  

In the 57th minute, Portland made the most of a costly turnover from the Gauchos as junior forward Benji Michel, one of the top players in the country, converted his third goal of the season in three games for the eventual game-winner.

UCSB continued to create opportunity after opportunity late, including five second half corners, but were unable to find the equalizer.

The Gauchos outshot the Pilots 11-9 and were even with five corners apiece. Michael tied for game-high honors with three shots while Billingsley and Candia added two each. Ben Roach registered one save as the UCSB defense held Portland to just two shots on target. Pilots keeper Kienan Weekes finished with five saves.

UCSB continues its Pacific Northwest road trip at Seattle (1-1) this Sunday, Sept. 2 at 6:00 p.m. The game will be streamed on the WAC Digital Network