Gauchos show some dazzle in a 1-1 draw

There are plenty of slick, quick players on the UCSB soccer team. The question at this early part of the season is who is going to step up and score the goals after all the creativity with the ball?

The creativity was dazzling, but it was a big defensive play by midfielder Nick DePuy that resulted in UCSB’s only goal of the night in a 1-1 draw against a solid and sturdy Northwestern team before 1,605 at Harder Stadium.

DePuy knocked down a clearance at the top of the 18-yard box, faked left and hit a shot that beat Northwestern’s 6-4 goalkeeper Tyler Miller at the left post in the 30th minute. It was the first collegiate goal for the sophomore.

Before the goal, the Gauchos created quality opportunities against a Wildcat team that came out in a defensive alignment. Duncan Backus had a flick header off a Reed McKenna corner kick flash wide in the 10th minute. Later, Ludwig Ahl drew oohs and ahhs from the fans when he dribbled through a crowd and slipped a sweet through ball to McKenna alone inside the box. McKenna was unlucky on his shot as it was deflected wide.

Ahl, who arrived from Sweden last week, is a special player on the ball. His quick feet, creativity, ability to cut through defenders and vision is reminiscent of a guy named Messi.

But all that pizazz doesn’t mean a thing if you can’t score.

“This is the best ball possession team we’ve had at UCSB as freshmen and sophomores,” 16-year UCSB coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “We definitely need to find a finisher who will actually take Ludwig’s passes and bury them, because he plattered two. We finish those and that game is 3-1.”

The Gauchos (1-1-1) conceded the tying goal in the 65th minute. Northwestern’s Elo Ozumba crossed the ball to the far post and Mike Roberge, with Ismaila Jome running with him, managed to flick the ball back to Jeffrey Hobson, who buried the shot.

The Gauchos nearly scored a go-ahead goal in the 71st minute when Ahl deftly laid the ball off to Jome whose point-blank shot was stopped by Miller’s impressive kick save.

“They had more combinations and chances,” Northwestern coach Tim Linehan said. “Our goalkeeper was outstanding. There’s a reason why he’s one of the top goalies in the country.”

Miller, who is on the Hermann Trophy Watch List, finished with five saves.

“I thought we did some better things in the second half,” Linehan said. “We weren’t sharp in the first half. We were probably nervous, for a lack of a better word. We played negative too much. (UCSB) kept us pinned in for a long time. They are a very good team. They played very, very well tonight. We were forced to compete and grind a little bit. Sometimes who have to grind out a result and you walk away feeling pretty good, especially when you’re down a goal.”

The Wildcats (2-0-1) were relieved when UCSB came up empty on a great chance in the 89th minute. Ahl got the ball deep in the box and tried to cross it to Charlie Miller at the far post. Miller couldn’t get to the ball and a Northwestern defender cleared it over the cross bar.

“He literally has to be more selfish,” said Vom Steeg of Ahl.

There were few scoring chances in the two overtime periods. In the first overtime, freshman Axel Mendez hit a blistering shot that was blocked by a defender.

Despite the draw, the Gauchos felt good about the progress of the team after three matches.

“It’s just a fact were playing a good team from the Big 10 and that we’re a young team,” Mendez said. “But it’s getting better throughout each game. We just lack that part at the end. It’s going to get better throughout the season. It should.”

Said DePuy: We’re just getting used to things, but it’s getting better. We’re still getting used to each other, each practice is getting better, each game we’re playing better together and moving the ball better as well.”

Vom Steeg called the game “a good step forward. It’s about as good a first half you can put together this early in the season.”