MSoc: Gauchos take a hit in 3-2 loss to Northridge

The Big West Tournament semifinals turned out to be a losing proposition for the UCSB men’s soccer team.

The Gauchos lost a lead, lost the game, lost two players to red cards and a couple more to injuries Friday night against Cal State Northridge at Harder Stadium.

All of that and Sagi Lev-Ari’s third goal of the game in the 83rd minute led to a 3-2 loss for the Gauchos before 1,832 fans. Northridge advances to the Big West Tournament final at UC Irvine on Sunday, with the winner earning the conference’s automatic NCAA Tournament berth.

UCSB, meanwhile, waits until Monday’s selection show to see if its high RPI ranking (No.8) and undefeated record during the Big West regular season will be enough to get a first-round bye and a second-round home game. The first round begins Thursday.

Whenever and wherever UCSB begins NCAA play, it will be without at least two starting players. Defender Kevin Garcia-Lopez was booked with his second yellow card of the match in the 73rd minute and midfielder Drew Murphy received a straight red card in the 90th minute. They are suspended for the next match.

The Gauchos already were playing without center back Peter Schmetz and forward Achille Campion, both sidelined with injuries. Goffin Boyoko, Daniel Welsh and Marshall Cazares suffered some knocks during Friday’s match.

The whole thing left UCSB coach Tim Vom Steeg frustrated.

“We’re all (UCSB, UC Irvine, Northridge) in the tournament, we’re all in. All I said tonight was no injuries and no red cards. That’s it,” an exasperated Vom Steeg said.

The loss snapped an 11-game unbeaten streak for the Gauchos. Their overall record falls to 12-5-3 while the Matadors improve to 15-5-1.

Vom Steeg and the Gauchos hope the loss doesn’t drop the Gauchos out of the running for a top 16 seed and a first-round bye.

“I’d be shocked to go from eight to past 16 after a loss to a top 20 RPI team,” he said. “I think we’re still OK. We’ll find out Monday. What’s critical is if we have to play on Thursday.”

The Gauchos fell behind in the 58th minute when the Matadors’ Levi-Ari headed a cross from Beto Velasquez past goalkeeper Josh McNeely.

UCSB got the equalizer on a terrific goal by Cazares in the 64th minute. Ismaila Jome drove the ball into the box, where a running Cazares hit a sweet left-footed volley past Northridge goalkeeper Adam Hobbs.

The Gauchos took a 2-1 lead in the 71st minute after Cazares was chopped down just outside the box. Boyoko stepped up and hit a 23-yard free kick into the back of the net.

“I thought we battled back and I thought we were doing what we’ve been doing all year, which is compete,” Vom Steeg said. “We’re 12 minutes away and if we stay right with 11 players, I think we win the game.”

But the Gauchos took a hit when Garcia-Lopez received his second yellow card of the match in the 73rd minute, leaving them shorthanded for the rest of the match.

Northridge capitalized in the 78th minute when David Turcios beat Gaucho Fifi Baiden on the dribble and was fouled in the box. Lev-Ari converted the resulting penalty kick to knot the score at 2-2.

Lev-Ari scored the game-winner in the 83rd minute when UCSB was unable to clear the ball out of the area. Velasquez headed the ball to Levi-Ari, who beat McNeely with a header.

A frustrated Murphy lost his composure and committed a hard foul and was ejected with 54 seconds left.

It all left UCSB’s NCAA Tournament status up in the air. They’ll find out Monday at 9 a.m., when and where they’ll play.