Santa Barbara, CA – In a big time game for the famous RPI points, the Gauchos came from behind to hand the Akron Zips their first loss of the season on national television. It was a huge game for UCSB who was coming off consecutive conference losses. This morale booster needs to carry over to conference play resuming this week. For Akron, it takes their record against Big West teams this year to 2-1-1. The Zips will have to get back to their easier conference schedule and prepare to defend their National Championship against a tough field in the coming 2 months.
UCSB: 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 diamond
GK: #1 Andre Grandt
Def: #19 Josue Madueno, #12 Tim Pontius, #2 Peter Schmetz, #20 James Kiffe
Mf: #7 Luis Silva, #5 Fifi Baiden, #10 Machael David
Fw: #8 Michael Nonni, #15 Dom Sarle (dropped into diamond mf at times), #17 Sam Garza
GK: #24 David Meves,
Def: #17 Deandre Yedlin, #4 Bryan Gallego, #3 Chad Barson, #14 Erick Stevenson
Mf: #6 Wil Trapp, #27 Michael Balogun, #15 Scott Caldwell
Fw: #9 Aodhan Quinn, #10 Darren Mattocks, #20 Luke Holmes
The Gauchos are trying to get their season back on track after two massive slip ups in conference play to UC Riverside and UC Irvine. Consecutive conference losses have never been part of the script and a big time performance against the defending national champs was just what the doctor ordered. They pressured the entire 90+ minutes and had impressive work rate to come from behind and win this game in overtime.
Grandt didn’t make any game changing saves on the evening. His posts were quite busy turning away Mattock’s bomb off the crossbar and Quinn’s low drive off the right post in the early going. Grandt came off his line to attempt to stop Mattocks in his 1 v 1 situation after a brilliant diagonal run and slipped ball from Trapp but could do nothing. He had little to do in a well timed and placed finish by Schmitt that tied things up at 2-2 in the 2nd half. I don’t think Grandt has shown this season he is the security blanket the Gauchos will need to make a deep run in the tournament.
UCSB played with a clearly defined back 4. However, the outside backs were Madueno and Kiffe, two players with clear offensive intentions who usually play outside mids for the Gauchos and even further up the field in their youth careers. Vom Steeg used this plan to perfection pressuring the Zips high up the field and using Kiffe and Madueno as wingers getting forward in the attack, pushing them high defensively to not allow Akron time and comfort in possession. Schmetz did a bit too much dribbling out of the back for my liking and gave the ball away in dangerous areas. He is not Lucio! Needs to keep it simple. Pontius has his limitations but plays simple and doesn’t force the issue. Kiffe was brilliant getting forward and owning Yedlin late in the game. His attacking play, dribbling, and crossing caused all kinds of problems for the Zips. He turned in a man of the match performace!
The Gaucho midfield was also instrumental in the game and had strong performances on both sides of the ball to negate Akron the patented possession game they are used to. High pressure from Silva and Ryan (subbed in for injured David early in the game) in unison with the forwards interrupted Akron’s rhythm for most of the game. Fifi Baiden was a monster in the second half. He looked like Machael David’s clone in his tackling and tracking of Akron’s talented midfielders. Sarle played almost like a withdrawn #9 striker. He would drop into the midfield defensively when Akron would break the first line of pressure to form a diamond in midfield. He also worked his socks off and covered a ton of ground. He scored a brilliant goal with a nice piece of technique and composure inside the 6 yard box. Luis Silva had a brace on the evening and started showing part of his game that has led him to 3four3’s top college players list.
The forward line saw the return of Michael Nonni to the starting line up for the first time this season – David Opokun relegated to the bench. This was a brilliant tactical decision by Vom Steeg! Nonni has the pace and work rate to match Garza which was necessary to put the Akron Zips under pressure defensively high up the field. You cannot allow Akron to feel comfortable and build their play out of the back. The work rate Nonni, Garza, and Sarle put in was the reason UCSB came out with the W….plain and simple! Equally impressive, the three attacking players still showed their offensive capabilities in creating countless opportunities during the course of the match. The energy put forth defensively did not hurt their offensive production. Nonni came close on multiple occasions early on; going inches wide and rattling the post inside the first 15 minutes. Garza was torching Yedlin on the left wing! Sarle was making good late runs into the box. This trio created massive problems for the Zips but the defensive pressure was the key to this game. Look for this group to get more looks in Big West play and be the solution to their 0-2 conference start.
The Zip’s play has gotten more fluid since their west coast swing last month. Getting this youthful side minutes on the field together has been key to seeing a team with more offensive bite in the final third. This game could have easily been put away had Quinn punished midway through the first half when he had a sitter in the 6 yard box and put it wide. That would have been 2-0 and the death by 1,000 passes would have put UCSB to bed for good. Instead, the player’s inexperience and decision-making forced them to give the ball away too many times and get UCSB the chances they needed to get back in the game. Again, Caleb Porter’s side is different to most college or pro teams in America because they have a clear playing identity. They know what they want to do on the field and it looks REHEARSED!!! There is clearly work done on the training field that translates to the games unlike most other teams.
Meves was a bit shakier on the night than on most occasions. He was put under lots of pressure with UCSB attacking both wings and getting lots of service in the box. He had to deal with a ton of set pieces as well. He looked rattled on the evening but had little to do in the Gaucho’s 3 goals. Meves made a huge save with his leg to deny the Gauchos in the first half and also made some good body saves in messy scrambles in the box. He is a leader with the experience needed to transmit security to his young back line.
There has been one change to the back four since I last saw the Zips. Eric Stevenson is now in at left back instead of David Mayer. This is a good move! Mayer would just make bad decisions and give up possession by forcing things forward. The center back pairing of Gallego and Barson is a good one! Neither is a physical specimen or super athletic but both play things simple and start the attacking play by being leaders and barking out orders to make sure the ball moves smoothly all over the field. Yedlin is one of the premier attacking backs in the nation. Defensively he has been exposed on several occasions and had a tough night with Garza and Kiffe tag-teaming his side of the field. The back row lacked cohesion and communication in all 3 Gaucho goals. The outside back was too late to close and allowed service into the box while the weak side defender over shifted; leaving Silva all alone in the first goal. Little Josue Madueno won a header in the box to lead to Sarle’s go ahead goal. Yedlin’s side was again exposed by Kiffe and Nonni early in overtime to allow Silva’s easy tap in on his late run into the box. The back row will need a lot of work and their concentration levels will need to be much higher against top notch opposition if the Zips want to get back to the college cup.
The midfield trio has also grown tremendously. Balogun is still the man sitting in front of the back 4 and dictating possession play out of the back. He is pretty error free and plays the simple back side to side. He took a few risks dribbling by multiple defenders going forward, and showed an aspect of his game I had not seen previously. Trapp and Caldwell are two players I like. GREAT AWARENESS BY BOTH OF THEM. They are constantly looking and taking pictures of what’s going on around them so when they receive their decision is already made and can move the ball quickly. THIS IS KEY! Porter knows what to look for in center mids and recruits brilliantly here! That’s the keen eye most coaches lack. They don’t appreciate this quality. Mental speed is more important than physical speed! Trapp has really found his comfort zone on the field and dished a brilliant ball to Mattocks in the first goal. He has assisted a goal in 4 consecutive games and is showing why he is a key piece in the Akron attack. Caldwell’s experience is showing. His veteran play and leadership will also be key in big games come the postseason.
The forwards are starting to click and the offensive output is coming around. They are creating countless chances and banging in goals! Mattocks is truly a goal scoring machine at this level. He is following up a brilliant freshmen campaign with a goal per game average so far this season – 10 games, 10 goals! WOW! His diagonal runs are what sets him apart. When any midfield player turns and is dribbling at the defense his movement into open space to set himself up, or create space, is fantastic. He still needs to do better when the ball is on the wings; and get himself into scoring position. Quinn is a great link up player with great awareness – like a central midfielder playing up top. His left foot is dangerous and he has a good mid-range shot that he shows on a consistent basis. Luke Holmes is the newest member of the attacking trio and has produced 2 goals and 3 assists in his 4 games. Good numbers and good wide play from Holmes who has associated well with his new teammates and looks to be a simple player who doesn’t turn the ball over.
The first 15 minutes of this contest was end to end EPL action with the cross bar and posts rattling on both sides! I immediately picked up the phone and texted some colleagues to see if they were witnessing this exciting action. Over the course of the 90 plus minutes, this was one of the most entertaining college games I’ve seen in a while. Akron struck first in the 15th minute after sloppy play and a turnover in UCSB’s defensive third. Trapp slid a nicely weighted ball into Mattocks path and he coolly finished far post with the outside of his right foot. With the lead, Akron had a good spell of possession with build up play from the back 5. This was the only time they looked comfortable in the entire game and dictated play.
UCSB countered in quick succession halfway through the second half to take the lead. Good play on the wings led to both goals. Silva finished on a volley with ease being unmarked at the far post to tie things up in the 63rd minute. Two minutes later it was Sarle who put the Gauchos up 2-1. The momentum had quickly shifted and Akron found themselves behind for the first time this season. They responded well and had a brilliant goal in the 68th minute to equalize. Quinn got in behind on the left wing and served up a wicked ball across the 6 yard box that Schmitt tracked and redirected with a one time finish to the far post. The game was tied and heading for overtime!
Any fans in the stadium or tv audience who were hoping this clash would continue for 20 minutes were disappointed. It took the Gauchos only 33 seconds to put it away. Great work by Nonni and Kiffe on the left led to a killer ball into the box that Silva found in his path and finished for the golden goal win that set off the thousands of Gaucho Locos on hand.
This win should be enough to get the Gaucho’s swagger back and have them start racking up points in the Big West. This team has too much talent to be sitting with zero points after two games. Vom Steeg’s group doesn’t display a team identity or show too much work on the training pitch but the players do work hard for their coach. There is no question of the level of talent and work rate on this team. Machael David’s leg injury is a big concern. They will need him – arguably the best holding midfielder in the nation – on the field soon if they want to seek revenge for last year’s early NCAA exit.
The Zips will also be a tough team to knock out come tournament time. I think the key for the Zips will be to get a high seed and play at home against the top notch opposition in the tournament. That could be the difference maker for this young team. Again, despite the loss, it is clear that this team has some serious work during the week on the training field. The team identity is there and consistently on display. POSSESSION when they have it and PRESSURE when they don’t. They have a soft schedule the rest of the way.
I will be covering two games over the weekend. #7 UC Irvine @ #4 Creighton on Saturday, and the big PAC 12 game #24 SD State @ #9 UCLA.