Gauchos lose ground, players, match against UC Riverside

Is it time for the UCSB men’s soccer team to push the panic button?

Already missing a central defender, the Gauchos lost two starting defenders to injuries Saturday night, gave up two second-half goals and suffered their second loss of the season to UC Riverside, 3-2, at a foggy Harder Stadium.

UCSB’s fourth setback in Big West play — and first loss at home to Riverside — keeps it out of the top four spots for the conference tournament. The Gauchos (9-5-1 overall) sit in sixth place with six points at 2-4-0, three points behind Cal Poly and Cal State Northridge, who share fourth place with 9 points.

UC Riverside (8-5-2, 3-3-1) vaulted into third with 10 points while UC Irvine and UC Davis share first place with 15 points.

UCSB still has four regular season matches left to make up ground, but with the injury situation and the team’s struggle to finish chances, it’s going to be tough hill to climb.

UCSB's Sam Garza races towards the goal on his way to a score against UC Riverside.

“We do need to take care of conference in order to put ourselves in a position to go to the postseason,” assistant coach Greg Wilson said. “We need to figure out a way to put ourselves in a position where we can be in the conference final. Our strength of schedule has been good all year, but the bottom line is when you get into conference you got to roll off some wins, and we got four ahead of us we got to go get.”

Riverside put UCSB in a must-win situation when Cesar Diaz Pizarro scored the game-winner on a penalty kick in the 72nd minute. Pizarro got behind a pushed up Gaucho defense and was dribbling toward goal when he was fouled from behind by Michael David. He beat UCSB goalkeeper André Grandt on the PK to break a 2-2 tie.

Six minutes later, David, one of the team’s holding midfielders, went down with a leg injury and had to be carried off the field. It was the second big injury of the night for UCSB. In the first half, defender Matt Glodack suffered a head injury and was taken to the hospital.

The Gauchos already were missing center back Tim Pontius, who was suspended Saturday night for a red card he received at last week’s Cal Poly loss. Coach Tim Vom Steeg also was serving a one-game suspension for a red card at Cal Poly.

The injuries and suspensions left gaps and uneasiness in the Gaucho defense, which Riverside was able to exploit.

“We did have to sort some things out and put some guys in different spots, but I thought we were good enough going forward that could have come out with result,” said Wilson.

The Highlanders took a 1-0 lead in the 27th minute when forward Richie Osborne got free on the right wing and ripped a shot from a sharp angle that zipped over the outstretched arm of Grandt at the near post and just under the cross bar.

UCSB controlled the ball for the majority of the first half but had nothing to show for it.

But that changed in the 31st minute when a driven ball into the box by David caught the arm of a Riverside defender and a hand-ball violation was called by referee Miguel Chicas.

Luis Silva converted the penalty kick to tie the score at 1-1.

UCSB put together a nice passing sequence to create a 2-on-1 advantage near the end of the first half, with David Opoku crossing the ball to Dom Sarle for the goal. But the goal was nullified because Opoku drifted offsides when he received the ball on the left wing.

A through ball to Nic Ryan in the 53rd minute created a 1-on-1 opportunity, but Ryan hit his low shot wide left.

Ten minutes later, the Highlanders capitalized on the Gaucho failure. On a fast break on the right side, Jon-Paul Medina took a pass from Joseph O’Connor and beat Grandt with a shot to the lower left corner for a 2-1 lead.

Garza and Silva answered for UCSB. Silva fed Garza on the right wing and the junior forward buried his shot into the top left corner of the goal.

The Gauchos came close to taking the lead when James Kiffe beat a defender on the left wing and crossed the ball into the box. Dom Sarle took a shot that deflected off a defender and pinged off the bottom the cross bar. The ball ricocheted straight down but didn’t cross the goal-line.

UCSB outshot Riverside 20-7

“We had 20 looks,” Wilson said. “That’s a lot of chances to put a game away.”