Silva is golden; UCSB beats Northridge to clinch tourney berth

NORTHRIDGE — Luis Silva has been terrific all season for the UCSB men’s soccer team.

On Tuesday night, he turned in a MVP-type performance with a pair of  spectacular goals — his second  a golden goal with 19 seconds remaining in the second overtime, lifting the Gauchos to a dramatic 3-2 win at Cal State Northridge that clinched a spot in the Big West Tournament.

“Silva is having a monster season, as good as any season by a Gaucho that I’ve seen for a long time,” UCSB coach Tim Vom Steeg said.

The two goals give Silva 14 for the season, the best by any player in the Big West Conference.

The Gauchos (12-5-1), with their third straight win, improve to 5-4-0 for 15 points in the conference standings and secure no worse than fourth place. They could finish as high as second, depending on other results and a win Friday against Cal Poly at home.

“We’re in both tournaments,” said Vom Steeg, referring to the Big West and NCAA Tournaments. “There’s no way with 12 wins, a 14 RPI and one game left that we can fall off the map.”

Northridge (7-8-3) fell to 3-4-2 in the Big West  and dropped out of postseason contention.

The Gauchos never have any easy time playing at the tight confines of the Matador Soccer Stadium and Tuesday was no different. Twice they gave up leads with less than two minutes remaining in each half.

They allowed the second goal playing with a man advantage, as Northridge’s Rene Anguiano was shown a red card after committing a studs-up tackle on Gaucho midfielder Fifi Baiden in the 55th minute. The injured Baiden left the game and didn’t return.

Josue Madueno didn’t play in the second half after suffering a leg injury in the first half.

On the game-winning goal, Silva played the ball into David Opoku who quickly gave it back. Silva dribbled across the top of the box with defenders chasing and let loose a shot on goal from about 16 yards. A Northridge defender desperately tried to block the ball but the shot had too much zip and it deflected off his leg and into the net, setting off a Gaucho celebration.

The Gaucho players ran over to Gaucho fans in the stands and joined them in the “I Believe That We Will Win” cheer.

“As soon as I got the ball I was thinking, “Keep it on frame,’ ”  Silva said. “It was going in. I think it was a pretty good finish, and we got the win and that’s all that matters.”

After surviving the Matadors’ high pressure defense, the Gauchos worked a nice combination between Sam Garza and Madueno for the first goal.

Dom Sarle stole the ball and fed Silva, who crossed the ball to Garza at the top of box. Garza hit a through ball to Madueno, creating a one-on-one situation with Northridge goalkeeper Michael Abalos.  Madueno lifted the ball over a diving Abalos for a 1-0 lead in the 17th minute.

The Gauchos held the lead until the end of the first half. They gave the ball away and Northridge made them pay. Taylor Bowlin dribbled up the right side and crossed the ball into the box. Baiden headed it out but it went right to Alberto Rosas, who ripped a one-time shot inside the right post to tie match in the 44th minute.

Silva stepped up to give UCSB the lead again. In the 77th minute, he hit a dipping free kick over the goalkeeper’s head from 30 yards for a 2-1 lead.

UCSB tried to kill the clock, but Northridge got the ball back and with less than two minutes left in regulation and scored the equalizer.

The ball was dumped into box and UCSB goalkeeper André Grandt went up in a crowd of players to punch it away. The ball, however, popped up and Yarden Azulay of the Matadors was in the right place at the right time and headed it into the net to make 2-2 with 1:12 left on the clock.

“This is a very tough place to play,” Silva said. “They have good players. They ran with us even though they had only 10 players and they gave it all they got.”

UCSB almost won the game earlier in the second overtime when Sarle sent Gaby Okito into the box for a one on one with Abalos, but Okito hit his shot right at the goalkeeper.

That set up the grand finish for Silva.