Gauchos’ Regular Season Opener Ends in 2-2 Draw

Jessica Wright scored in the 83rd minute to secure the draw for the Gauchos in their regular season opener with Minnesota on Thursday night. (Photo by Eric Isaacs)
Jessica Wright scored in the 83rd minute to secure the draw for the Gauchos in their regular season opener with Minnesota on Thursday night. (Photo by Eric Isaacs)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – At the end of a hard-fought 110 minutes of soccer at Harder Stadium on Thursday night, there was nothing that separated the UC Santa Barbara women's soccer team and the visiting Minnesota squad as each team opened their respective seasons.

Senior forward Shaelan Murison's wondergoal inside of three minutes and sophomore forward Jessica Wright's late equalizer canceled out a Makenzie Langdok double as the Gauchos and Golden Gophers shared the spoils.

"I think to get a tie, and again coming from behind against that team, I'm happy with the result," said head coach Paul Stumpf after the game to UCSB play-by-play voice Gerry Fall.

Murison scored the first goal of the season at the 2:35 mark of the first half, receiving the ball inside the top left side of the visitors' penalty area, turning to set up a shot that she lifted well out of reach of opposing goalkeeper Maddie Nielsen into the top right corner.

The opening quarter hour saw the Gauchos find comfort in working a high press, keeping the pressure on Minnesota to play the ball out of the back.

In the 15th minute, Langdok was on the end of the Golden Gophers' first big chance, putting a right footed effort on frame only for it to be cleared off the line by sophomore centerback Lauren Hess.

Just four minutes later, the Minnesota attacker got her reward after Patricia Ward's cross from the right wing was perfectly placed into the six-yard box, where an open Langdok coolly headed the ball to the left of senior goalkeeper Hanna DeWeese and into the net.

The first half was very much stop-and-go for the Gauchos, as they were whistled for fouls eight times in the first 45 minutes. Rhythm was difficult to establish as they only mustered three shots.

Langdok continued to threaten after the halftime break, completing her brace in the 57th minute when she took advantage of a Gaucho mistake as the hosts were attempting to play out of the back off a goal kick. She gained control of the ball inside the UCSB penalty area and was able to create enough of an angle to beat both a Gaucho defender and DeWeese with a left-footed curler towards the bottom left corner of goal.

Stumpf's squad pushed for an equalizer, creating a pair of quality chances within 60 seconds in the 77th and 78th minutes, with both sophomore forward Cate Post and Murison having pacey shots saved by Minnesota's Nielsen.

In the 83rd minute, the moment finally came for the Gauchos' breakthrough, when junior forward and Santa Barbara City College transfer Isabella Viana dribbled inside the opposition's penalty area and found Wright in space on the left side of the box. Wright curled it inside the left post just outside the reach of Nielsen's outstretched arms to level the scoreline at 2-2.

"That was exciting. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I had a feeling that a ball was going to pop out [of midfield], so I was kind of waiting in the right area. When the time came, I was there, so that was good," Wright said of her goal.

Nielsen was booked for illegally handling the ball outside the box with just three seconds left in regulation, and the Gauchos were given a free kick just outside the left corner of the 18-yard box. Murison stepped up to take it, but her shot sailed over the target and the teams regrouped at their respective benches to gear up for overtime.

Neither team caused much havoc for the opposing defense in either overtime, aside from Murison's 105th minute attempt that Nielsen managed to collect, and the game ended with the score knotted.

"The positives were, yes, getting an early goal was great, but I feel like there was a 25-to-30-minute storm (in the first half) that we had to manage. The work ethic was there, but the quality lacked. We didn't handle the pressure very well," Stumpf remarked to Fall.

"As far as the response goes to once again managing the storm, being challenged in the locker room, and then coming out and going back to work, I was very pleased."

This was the Gauchos' first season-opening tie since 2011, when UCSB drew with Idaho 1-1.

The Gauchos remain at home for their next match, facing the Spartans of San Jose State on Sunday at 12 p.m. The game will be streamed live on UCSBGauchos.com.