Sept. 14, 2007
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - All-American midfielder Eric Avila picked an excellent time to score his first goal of the season, as he netted the game-winner in overtime to lift the ninth-ranked UC Santa Barbara men's soccer team to a 2-1 win over No. 3 SMU in the first match of the Nike/Crescent Financial Solutions Invitational Friday evening at the UNM Soccer Complex. Sophomore Ciaran O'Brien was outstanding in the victory, scoring the Gauchos' first goal and registering an assist on the second.
With the win, UCSB improves to 2-1-1 on the season, while SMU's record now stands at 2-1-1, as well. Santa Barbara has now gotten the better of Southern Methodist twice in its last nine matches after handing the Mustangs a 3-1 defeat in the NCAA Tournament Second Round last November. The Gauchos have not lost to SMU in three meetings.
"This was definitely a big win for us tonight," head coach Tim Vom Steeg said. "I felt like we had control of the game and it was ours to win, so you hate to give up a goal that late but, fortunately, we were able to bounce back in overtime against a very good team that will be in the top 20 all year and be dangerous in the postseason."
The Gauchos took a 1-0 lead in the 34th minute. Junior midfielder Chris Pontius played a ball up to senior forward Tino Nuñez just outside the 18-yard box. Nuñez controlled it and back-heeled a pass off for a streaking O'Brien, who beat the Mustangs' two center backs up the middle and scored from 10 yards out past goalkeeper Steve Sandbo at the 33:08 mark.
The transfer from San Diego leads the team with two goals through four games this season.
UCSB dominated the ball in the first half and went into the locker room with its 1-0 lead intact. The Gauchos out-shot the Mustangs 11-4 through the first 45 minutes of play and recorded five corner kicks to SMUs' two.
Southern Methodist would adjust in the second period and answered in the 83rd minute when miscommunication on the Gaucho backline led to the equalizer. Mustang Forward Dane Saintus got past senior defender Andy Iro and, one-on-one with freshman keeper Bryant Rueckner, slipped a shot just inside the left post from the right side to send the match into overtime.
After a couple of really good chances in the first five minutes of the extra period, UCSB finally broke through at the 96:48 mark to win its second straight contest after starting 0-1-1. O'Brien carried the ball towards the box, looked up, and found Avila, who made a great run and beat Sandbo for his first goal since scoring the game-winner against UCLA in the second half of the national championship match.
Avila, a 2007 M.A.C. Hermann Trophy candidate, now has 12 career goals in the blue and gold, the most among the 28 current players on UCSB's roster.
Santa Barbara posted a 19-12 shot advantage for the game, and maintained an 8-5 edge in corners. The Mustangs didn't help their cause racking up three yellow cards in the match. Ryan Mirsky, Bruno Guarda, and Scott Corbin each picked up a warning from the officials.
The Gaucho defense did its job once again, limiting the Mustangs to just two shots on goal, as Rueckner needed to make just one save to earn his second victory. Sandbo finished with three saves for SMU.
UCSB hopes to ride the momentum from its first win over a ranked opponent in 2007 into Sunday's match with 28th-ranked New Mexico. The Gauchos and host Lobos will square off at 2:00 p.m. PT on the final day of the Nike/Crescent Financial Solutions Invite.