Silva’s golden goal beats Akron, ends UCSB slump

Gaucho midfielder Luis Silva scored two goals including the game winner in sudden-death overtime. (Vince Agapito photos)

The dark clouds that hovered over the UCSB men’s soccer team blew away late Wednesday, and everything was right again in the place called “Soccer Heaven.”

The Gauchos, who had lost their last two matches, fought back from a 1-0 deficit against defending national champion, undefeated and No. 3-ranked Akron and pulled out a heaven-sent 3-2 overtime victory before 4,340 at Harder Stadium and a national television audience.

Senior midfielder Luis Silva scored the golden goal just 27 seconds into the first overtime. James Kiffe started the play by intercepting a clearing ball and beating two Akron defenders on the left side of the penalty area. As he turned the corner, Kiffe crossed the ball on the ground to the near post, where Michael Nonni was making a run. Nonni got a touch on the ball and redirected it to Silva, who buried the shot into the wide open net. It was his second goal of the night.

A joyous Silva ripped off his jersey and ran toward the sideline, where was mobbed by his teammates.

The victory provided a huge lift for the 15th-ranked Gauchos (7-3-1), who were struggling to score goals and coming off a pair of losses in the Big West.

“It shows a lot of character for our team,” said Kiffe, who had two assists in the win.

“I’m so excited for our guys,” coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “The guys really rallied around (each other) after that (2-0) loss to Irvine and got themselves together, and came out and stayed after it.”

The loss for Akron (7-1-2) was its first of the year and only the second in its last 60 regular season matches going back to 2009. It also was the Zips’ first loss at Harder Stadium, where last December they beat Michigan and Louisville in the College Cup to win their first national title.

“We didn’t sustain a high enough level on either side of the ball to deserve to win tonight,” Akron coach Caleb Porter said. “We hadn’t played that caliber of opponent in the season thus far and it showed, especially in our individual and collective defending. Santa Barbara played through us far too easily and we didn’t show the grit and intensity that we needed.”

Dom Sarle chips the ball past the Akron goalie for the Gauchos' second goal on the night.

One of the biggest plays made by the Gauchos was turned in by one of the shortest players on the field, 5-7 midfielder Josue Madueno. He beat Akron defender Eric Stevenson to win a head ball in the box and got it to forward Dom Sarle. Sarle deftly kicked the ball around a defender and finished the play with a chip shot over the shoulder of Akron goalkeeper David Meves, giving the Gauchos a 2-1 lead.

The game was wide open and entertaining, with both teams creating good scoring chances.

UCSB came out hard and pressured the Zips with some dangerous scoring chances in the opening minutes. Nonni, on a nifty give-and-go with Garza, hit the post in the 10th minute.

After weathering the storm, Akron started to assert itself. Darren Mattocks fired a shot from close range that Gaucho goalkeeper André Grandt got his hand to keep it out of the net in the 13th minute.

A minute later, Aodhan Quinn worked himself free and slammed a shot off the cross bar from 20 yards.

The Zips broke through in the 14th minute. Defensive midfielder Michael Balogun won a ball and gave it to Wil Trap who slipped a through pass to Mattocks. The sophomore forward beat Grandt one on one for his eighth goal of the season.

The Gauchos suffered another blow in the half when holding midfielder Machael David came up limping after a challenge and asked to come out of the game. Nic Ryan replaced David and played a solid game in the position.

“We got positive energy from the bench to the field,” said Vom Steeg.

The Gauchos had Akron on its heels in the last 12 minutes of the first half but they still couldn’t find the back of the net.

The frustration continued early in the second half. On a corner kick in the 49th minute, Tim Pontius had a wide open header from inside the 6-yard box but his shot landed on top of the goal.

The drought finally ended in the 64th minute. Madueno fed Sarle on the right flank and Sarle crossed the ball to a wide-open Silva, who tapped it in, knotting the score at 1-1.

The Gauchos came at the Zips again three minutes later and took the lead on Sarle’s nifty goal. It marked the first time Akron allowed more than two goals in a game this season.

“The most disappointing part was the way we started each period,” Porter said. “We weren’t sharp in the first half but still scored a goal and were in a good position, up 1-0. UCSB was more hungry in the second half and it showed when they leveled the game and then went up 2-1.”

Substitute Thomas Schmitt got the Zips even in the 68th minute after some good work from Quinn. He worked up the left wing and hit a beautiful cross that Schmitt finished from the far post.

“We finally woke up and put together some of our best stuff to get back into the game,” Porter said. “I really thought we were going to find the goal to win in regulation, but again we lost our edge in overtime and they capitalized.”

A terrific save by Meves on a shot by Garza in the 81st minute kept the Gauchos from retaking the lead in regulation.

The Gauchos needed only a few seconds of overtime to finish the job and post one their biggest regular season wins.

“I’m so proud of our guys and what they did today,” Vom Steeg raved. “It truly was a great Gaucho win.”