Santa Clara scores late goal to spoil UCSB’s home opener

UCSB goalkeeper Makenna Henry goes up to make one of her four saves against Santa Clara. (Photos by Vince Agapito)

On the positive side for the UCSB women’s soccer team, it showed Friday night that it can play with one of the top-ranked teams in the country.

After a rocky start, the Gauchos gave No. 16 Santa Clara a battle and appeared headed to overtime tied at 1-1.

But the Broncos spoiled UCSB’s home opener at Harder Stadium by scoring the game-winning goal with less than two minutes left in regulation. Sarah Jackson broke free on the right side and ripped a shot to the far post that Gaucho goalkeeper Makenna Henry saved but couldn’t hold. Lauren Matheson pounced on the rebound and scored for a 2-1 Santa Clara victory.

It was a heartbreaking defeat for the Gauchos (1-1-1), who missed a clear shot to take the lead in the 78th minute.

“It’s clearly disappointing,” UCSB coach Paul Stumpf said. “We had a few chances to win it. We bleed a second chance, and it’s an easy finish for a quality player.”

Kathleen Mathew hit a low cross to a wide-open Alyssa Benjamin at the 12-yard spot in the middle of the penalty area, but Benjamin got her foot under the ball and lifted over the cross bar.

In the 86th minute, Erin Ortega battled with three Santa Clara defenders in the box and the squirted out to Kelly McGrath, but she hit her shot wide.

“I’m disappointed like crazy in the result,” said Stumpf, whose team is now 1-1-1. “We’re 3-for-3 as far as playing hard and playing good soccer. If we can keep playing with that kind of quality, that focus, that passion, connecting passes and getting great defensive work, I like our chances going forward.”

Santa Clara was the only team going forward early in the match.

“Twenty or so minutes in we’re doing all the chasing,” Stumpf said. “It almost felt like we were playing Brazil or something. It looked like we never trapped and passed a ball in our life in the first 20 minutes.”

Santa Clara (2-0) took a 1-0 lead on a brilliant shot by Matheson in the 10th minute. After receiving a pass from Julie Johnston on the right side, she hit a 25-yard bomb into the upper left corner of the goal.

Stumpf said a change in his team’s formation from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2 seemed to turn things around for the Gauchos.

“Once we made the change that’s when I felt the team calmed down and started connecting the passes, and we did a much better job at playing soccer.” he said.

Erica Shelton was handful for the Broncos on the right side. She set up the tying goal with a lofting ball to the upper left corner of the far post. Santa Clara’s outstanding goalkeeper Bianca Henninger barely got a hand on the ball and deflected it to Gaucho forward Lindsey Gankema, who headed it back toward the goal. Broncos’ defender Margueritte Aozasa tried to clear the ball but wound up kicking it into the net to knot the score at 1-1 in the 47th minute.

The teams battled back and forth, with each creating good scoring chances.

For UCSB, Kathleen Mathew delivered a diagonal ball to Erin Ortega running into the box, but Ortega was unable to get off a shot thanks to some terrific defense by Santa Clara’s Sofia Huerta in the 76th minute

Kathryn Speidel of the Broncos misfired from inside the box in the 79th minute and Henry saved a free kick from Meleana Shim in the 83rd minute. The Broncos hit a couple of open shots over the cross bar before Matheson scored the game-winner.

“I think Makenna is probably the most disappointed because she saw so little action and she had to make a save to keep us in the game. She’s probalby feeling worse than anybody, knowing her.”

The Gauchos can’t dwell on the hard-luck loss because they return to the field on Sunday morning at 11:30 to take on No. 26-ranked  Minnesota.

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