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Aguilar Strikes Again, Heads in Epic 90th Minute Blue-Green Rivalry Winner

Salvador Aguilar (Photo by Jeff Liang)
Salvador Aguilar (Photo by Jeff Liang)

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. – Playing in front of the largest crowd the NCAA has seen this season at Cal Poly's Alex G. Spanos Stadium on Wednesday night, the UC Santa Barbara men's soccer team escaped with a 2-1 win thanks to more late-game heroics from Salvador Aguilar, who headed in the game-winning goal with 12 seconds left in the 90th minute.

The Gauchos will head into Saturday's non-conference finale against No. 5-T Stanford with a 5-1-2 record and riding a five-game unbeaten streak. The Mustangs are now 0-7 with one game left before the start of Big West play.

HOW IT HAPPENED
Things seemed to be going according to the script early on, as the heavily-favored Gauchos opened the scoring in the 18th minute.

UCSB 1, Cal Poly 0 – Alexis Ledoux 18' (C. Vom Steeg)
Santa Barbara pushed forward and Finn Ballard McBride laid it off to right back Caden Vom Steeg for a first-time ball into the box. As a Mustang center back shielded off Aguilar in front of goal, he didn't make an attempt to clear it, and it fell right to Alexis Ledoux who softly tucked it into the near post for his first goal as a Gaucho.

After UCSB took the lead, the Gauchos would sustain several injuries that threw off their momentum. There would be few moments where solid build-up play turned into clear scoring chances for both sides, often lacking the final pass needed in the attacking third. The Mustangs remained aggressive in search of an equalizer, and after totaling just 17 corner kicks through their first six games, would earn a season-high 10 to UCSB's five.

Senior goalkeeper Leroy Zeller made the stops he needed and UCSB's back line remained strong. However, a ball played into the Cal Poly box in the 89th minute would lead to a collision as Zeller attempted to clear it with his head, and the Mustangs were awarded a penalty.

UCSB 1, Cal Poly 1 – Nathan Colley 89'
Zeller chose the correct side, but Nathan Colley's shot towards the left post just made it past the German keeper's glove, and the game was tied with less than 90 seconds left. Fortunately for the Gauchos, that was more than enough time to rewrite another classic ending to the Blue-Green rivalry.

UCSB 2, Cal Poly 1 – Salvador Aguilar 90' (Aldana)
The clock was stopped with under 30 seconds remaining as a Gaucho throw-in was delayed and the ball ended up in the crowd. The Mustang faithful jubilantly celebrated by throwing the ball around the stands, but once play resumed, UCSB got its last chance to attack. A hopeful ball sent forward fell right to junior Jorge Aldana, whose great first touch allowed him to beat his man and cross it into the box from the right wing with space. At the end of it, unsurprisingly, was Aguilar, who attacked it in the air at the perfect moment from about three yards out and smashed in another one of his clutch, patented headers straight down and into the back of the net with just 12 seconds left.

It went down as Aguilar's second game-winner of the season, giving him a team-leading four goals in eight outings.

NOTABLE

  • The final attendance settled at 10,392, not only going down as the largest crowd in college soccer so far this year, but ranking 25th all-time in Division I history.
  • From start to finish, Alexis Ledoux was an absolute menace for the Mustangs to handle, showing off his dynamic skillset as he threatened the Cal Poly defense all over the field. His first goal of the year felt inevitable with the way he has cut up defenses all year, and a gorgeous build-up in the 79th almost resulted in a brace as he had his third shot on goal of the night just barely deflect off goalkeeper Gabe Penner's shoulder. The speedy French forward also nearly moved into a tie for the team-lead with his fourth assist on a Ballard McBride header in the 85th, but the goal was disallowed when it was ruled McBride was just a hair offside.
  • Cal Poly's 89th minute equalizer was the first goal it has scored against UCSB in nearly three calendar years, since a 3-1 Gaucho win on Oct. 5, 2019. The Mustangs were shutout by the Gauchos in three straight meetings heading into Wednesday.
  • Aguilar's fourth headed goal comes on the heels of his second Big West Player of the Week honor through four weeks of play. He has now scored in two straight games for the second time this season, something he accomplished once during a six-goal 2021 campaign.

QUOTABLE
Tim Vom Steeg on the match...
"I thought we started out really well. We got the goal, and then [center back Johannes Vedin] got hurt, and that was kind of a big hit for us. Then Sam Fletcher got hurt as well and we're already missing Jared [Vom Steeg], so we had to move things around and it threw our rhythm off, but we did enough. We defended our box well and did a lot of good things to keep them from scoring. It doesn't matter where we play Cal Poly. You're going to get their best game here. You're going to get a team that's really fired up and playing really hard, and in the end, we found a way to win at Spanos Stadium. That's not an easy thing for us to do."

On Aguilar's winning goal...
"Crazy finish. I don't think anyone thinks you can score within a minute, so you're pretty disappointed in that moment. We threw everybody in the middle of the box and dumped one in. Jorge did a really nice job of picking up the ball and beating a player in the wide area. I subbed Chava  [Aguilar] in right when Cal Poly scored, because we knew if we had any chance of scoring, it was going to be something in the box, and he did what he's been doing all year which is getting after the ball."

On this Saturday's match vs. Stanford...
Unfortunately, due to the injuries, we have to rethink things a little bit now. Stanford is really good and poses its own problems, but I think that we are a fairly resilient group and a deep group in terms of talent. We may need to add more players to our rotation on Saturday to keep everybody running, so I think we'll stay with what's been effective for us, but needless to say Stanford is a team that plays at a high level. We'll have two days to figure that out, but we'll enjoy tonight's win for now and get ready for Saturday."

NEXT UP
UCSB has a short turnaround before its big test against the No. 5 ranked Cardinal on Saturday at 7:00 p.m. The Gauchos are 1-0-1 against ranked opponents this year and have that same record in their last two meetings with the Cardinal at Harder Stadium.