SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – No. 9 UC Santa Barbara scored three goals in three minutes midway through the first half en route to a hard-fought 5-2 win against the University of San Diego in Friday night's regular season home opener at Harder Stadium.
Despite jumping out to a 3-0 lead, the Gauchos (3-0-0) led by just a pair at the halftime break, and in the second half the match devolved into a chippy, tenacious affair that saw the Toreros (1-1-1) come within inches of making it a one-goal game.
Fortunately for UCSB, head coach Tim Vom Steeg picked the perfect drill to end the final practice before this weekend's contest, with the Gauchos spending over a half hour practicing finishing. Thus, the Gauchos were able to turn just 11 shots into five goals thanks to world-class shots from midfielder Kevin Feucht, forwards Nick DePuy and Ahinga Selemani, and wingback Dalton Pando.
Friday night was UCSB's first five-goal output since Sept. 16, 2012, a 6-2 win at Seattle. It was the Gauchos' first five-goal game at Harder since they beat Cal State Fullerton 6-0 on Oct. 11, 2011.
"San Diego is a big, strong team so it took us a little while to get going tonight," said Vom Steeg. "We weren't at our best in the opening 30 minutes of the game, so we were pleased to get three goals out of that. I thought the goal early in the second half was key for us, and we hope that gets Nick going. It was a good effort from the guys and I thought the defense battled tough in the box against a physical team."
Feucht opened the scoring in the 25th minute, then extended UCSB's lead to 2-0 less than 60 seconds later.
The opener came seemingly out of nowhere, with freshman midfielder Daniel Amo finding Feucht in the center of the park about 30 yards from goal after a length buildup. With some space, Feucht raced towards goal, then planted outside the 18 and curled a perfectly placed shot inside the right post.
The scorer of UCSB's golden goal winner at Ohio State in the team's previous contest, Feucht netted the team's third consecutive goal a few seconds later. Senior mid Andy Perez started that play with a throw-in deep in USD territory, finding Josue España near the touchline. The playmaker froze his defender, then whipped in a cross to the near post, where Feucht was able to flick it inside the far post.
A few moments later, Selemani seemingly put the game out of reach with the first of what turned out to be a pair of UCSB goals off defensive clearances. Junior left back Randy Mendoza started the first play, clearing a ball from the UCSB box all the way past midfield, where Selemani won the ball at the left touchline and got past his defender, starting a 2-on-1. Streaking towards goal on the left side, Selemani opted to shoot, placing a left-footed strike over the keeper inside the near post.
The Toreros were able to pull one back minutes before the halftime break when extended possession in the box led to a goalbound shot from Miguel Berry, forcing the Gauchos to bear down in the locker room.
Vom Steeg's squad came out with renewed vigor after the break, leading to the first of what is sure to be many goals from All-American striker Nick DePuy, who was held off the scoresheet in both games of the Wolstein Classic.
In classic DePuy fashion, the 6-5 striker out-muscled his marker and got his head on a Randy Mendoza cross from the left corner. The Gauchos are now 17-0-4 all-time when DePuy scores a goal.
After DePuy's marker re-established a three-goal margin, San Diego began to sustain momentum, leading to a number of chances. Similar to their first goal, the Toreros netted in the 60th minute after a number of passes in the final third led to a first-touch shot from Merlin Baus just outside the 18.
In the 79th minute, San Diego narrowly avoided making it interesting, as a nice through ball led to a good look for Patrick McGrath inside the penalty area, but his left-footed shot rolled just wide of the outside post.
UCSB was able to cement the victory in the final minutes of the contest with a bit of an oddball goal.
Following a Toreros corner kick, the ball was bouncing around the UCSB net until España was finally able to get it out, driving a scissor kick clearance all the way down the field, where a streaking Pando ran it down and got a perfect first touch on it set up a breakaway. One on one with goalie Thomas Olsen, he slotted low to the keeper's left and though Olsen was able to get a touch on it, the ball still found the back of the net.
UCSB wraps up its Labor Day weekend at Harder with a 7:05 contest against St. Mary's on Sunday evening. The Gael are a winless 0-1-2 on the season, but they have draws against future UCSB opponent Cal as well as preseason No. 1 Stanford.