SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- The No. 17 UC Santa Barbara men's soccer team opened its regular season schedule in about the best way they could have imagined, putting in an all-around outstanding performance and topping the reigning Pac-12 champion and fifth-ranked Stanford 1-0 on Friday night at Harder Stadium.
Junior forward Nick DePuy was the lone goalscorer of the game, as the reigning Big West Offensive Player of the Year picked up right where he left off in 2014 with a headed goal past Stanford keeper Andrew Epstein in the waning minutes of the first half.
The season-opening win was a measure of revenge for UCSB, who gave up three goals on set pieces within the first dozen minutes of last year's showdown in Palo Alto. It was the Gauchos' first win over the Cardinal since the 2004 season.
"We took a lot of pride into tonight's game," said UCSB head coach Tim Vom Steeg. "Last year we gave up three goals in 11 minutes and we've been playing that video for eight months waiting for this game. Stanford has been picked as a Final Four contender and they showed nothing to disprove that tonight. All in all, we learned a lot about our team tonight and the potential that we have. "
DePuy's goal came in a solid period of possession for the Gauchos, who began to control the run of play in the latter part of the first half after Stanford came out of the gate with the edge, as freshman keeper Justin Vom Steeg -- making his official NCAA debut -- was forced into making a pair of tough saves early.
Off a goal kick, junior midfielder Seo-In Kim -- making his first appearance as a Gaucho after transferring from Duke -- won possession from his defender and took off toward the Stanford goal. Making a move to get past his defender, Kim curled out towards the right corner of the box, whipping a cross to the far post for DePuy, who out-muscled his marker and headed the pass in-between the outstretched hands of Epstein.
The goal was just a continuation of red-hot play for the 6-4 striker, who has netted in six of his last seven games, scoring eight goals in that span. Including last weekend's win over Westmont, DePuy has 13 goals in 15 appearances since moving to the forward position full-time last season.
That goal proved to be just enough as the Gauchos weathered Stanford's persistent and dangerous attempts to level the score.
After allowing all three of those 2014 goals to Stanford on set pieces, a taller and more bulky Gaucho squad denied any serious threats to the veteral Cardinal.
Marking Stanford's Jordan Morris, one of the most lethal forwards in the country at any level and a capped member of the senior United States Men's National Team, Strong consistenly shut down the Cardinal's most viable offensive threat. Morris was held to just one shot in 65 minutes of action. A member of the USMNT program himself and a former teammate of Morris's at the U-23 level, Strong was able to rely on experience despite making his NCAA debut.
"I knew from playing with him at [U-23] camp that he is an extremely quick forward. So I played off of him and gave him 5-10 feet so that he couldn't get past our back line, and he wasn't able to crack us."
Likewise, Feucht "threw his body all over the middle of the park" according to Vom Steeg. It was a second strong performance in a row for Feucht, who is adjusting to a new role as a defensive mid after starring as an attacker in his first season of collegiate soccer. With his 6-4 frame, he earned Man of the Match votes by shutting down the defensive third for UCSB.
Stanford had their best chance of the game in the 49th minute, but a headed-in goal off a free kick was deemed offside by the linesman.
The Gauchos had a couple chances off the counter in the second half and came very close to extending their lead.
In the 67th, freshman midfielder and former Cate School star Geoffrey Acheampong recorded his first scoring chance as a Gaucho, hooking up with sophomore forward Ahinga Selemani down the left wing to get off a shot from close range, but his hard-struck drive went wide left.
Then in the 87th, a scramble in the box led to a eight-yard shot from DePuy, but his effort was blocked at the last minute by a Cardinal defender.
Despite that, a strong performance off the bench from players such as Andy Perez, Adam Carn-Saferstein, and Randy Mendoza preserved the result for UCSB. All those players provided huge plays within the game. Kim, who served up the game-winning assist, also was a non-starter on Friday.
Justin Vom Steeg ended up making four saves en route to his first career win and shutout.
UCSB has now won five straight regular season openers, and it has only lost one game on Opening Night in the past 11 years. However, this is the Gauchos' first win in a home opener since the 2011 season. Overall, they are 13-2-2 in the first game of the season in Vom Steeg's tenure.
The Gauchos' next action will be on the road, as they travel to Albuquerque to face off against Denver (neutral) and New Mexico on Friday and Sunday, respectively, of next week.
Season tickets for the 2015 campaign are still available! To purchase season tickets for UCSB men's soccer, or for additional information, please drop by the Athletics Ticket Office in the Intercollegiate Athletics Building on campus, call (805) 893-UCSB (8272) or online by clicking here.