Big First Half Propels UCSB Past No. 15 UCLA, 3-1

Rodney Michael celebrates with his teammates after scoring one of his two goals on Saturday night during a 3-1 victory over No. 15 UCLA (Photo by Eric Isaacs)
Rodney Michael celebrates with his teammates after scoring one of his two goals on Saturday night during a 3-1 victory over No. 15 UCLA (Photo by Eric Isaacs)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – The UC Santa Barbara men's soccer team scored three goals within seven minutes in the first half, including two from Rodney Michael, to topple No. 15 UCLA 3-1 in front of 5,235 fans on Saturday night at Harder Stadium.

With the win, the Gauchos (5-3) remain a perfect 4-0 at Harder Stadium this season while picking up their second win in the past three meetings against the rival Bruins, who fall to 4-3.

"There's a lot of tradition with UCLA and a lot of history," said head coach Tim Vom Steeg after the win. "Of course, it's the team we had to beat to win a national championship. Any time you get the chance to play UCLA, and play them at home, there's energy, there's life and it feels like big time soccer."

Playing in front of the fifth largest crowd in the NCAA this season, the Gauchos fell behind early after a stunning sixth minute goal that saw Frankie Amaya curl a left-footed shot into the net from 20 yards out to put the Bruins ahead 1-0.

The Gauchos did not waste any time finding the equalizer after Axel Mendez sent a ball over the top from midfield that found Rodney Michael at the top of the box in the 16th minute. Michael made a move past his defender to find space and fired across his body to the back corner to even up the score.

Just one minute later, it was Mendez setting up another goal for UCSB with a flick into the box that ended up connecting with a UCLA defender for an own goal.

The Gauchos continued to keep up the offensive pressure and made it a 3-1 game in the 22nd minute off a set piece from the corner. Thibault Candia recorded his third assist in two games after he lofted the ball into the box and Faouzi Taieb headed the ball down into a scrum of players. Michael then managed to find the ball and poke it into the goal for his fifth of the year and second of the night.

The first half also saw six yellow cards, including five from an aggressive UCSB side, that ultimately picked up a red card in the 38th minute and was forced to play a man down for the remainder of the match.

UCSB keeper Ben Roach and the Gauchos' defense held strong in the second half, not allowing UCLA any thoughts of a comeback despite eight corners in the final period.

"I felt like we were a different team tonight," Vom Steeg said. "I thought we came out with great energy and we were very focused. It felt like a playoff game out there and I felt like our team rose to a different level."

UCLA outshot the Gauchos 13-8 while both teams tallied nine corners apiece. Michael and Milan Iloski tied with five shots apiece to lead all players in the game while Noah Billingsley finished with two and Faouzi Taieb had one for UCSB. Roach finished with four saves, including a handful of key stops down the stretch to keep the momentum in the Gauchos' favor.

UCSB continues its home stand at Harder Stadium with a match this Tuesday, Sept. 25 at 7:00 p.m. against Gonzaga.

Santa Barbara hosts the 2018 NCAA Division I Men's Soccer College Cup on Dec. 7 and 9 at Harder Stadium. College Cup ticket packages as well as UCSB season tickets are on sale now and can be purchased online or by calling the UCSB Athletics Ticket Office at 805-893-UCSB.