Dylan Smith (no. 14) keeps the ball away from his defender.
Dylan Smith (no. 14) keeps the ball away from his defender. BriChew/HIGHLANDER


The Highlanders (5-4-1, 1-0-1) opened up conference play at the UCR soccer stadium against UC Santa Barbara (4-5-1, 0-0-1) on Thursday, Sept. 29 to a packed house of 688. The crowd energy certainly fueled the Highlanders as they drew first blood courtesy of midfielder Raul Guerrero assist to midfielder Romario Lomeli in the 42nd minute. Forward Tyler Miguel headed in a Lomeli assist in the 66th minute to put the blue and gold up 2-0. Santa Barbara managed to score on a Nick DuPuy header assisted by Josue Espana in the 69th minute and again on a Kevin Feucht free kick to tie the match at two goals apiece. Neither team could find the back of the net in both overtime periods resulting in draw.


The Highlanders came out with an energy and enthusiasm to match that of the crowd as the team attacked Santa Barbara immediately. UCR’s physicality looked more like american football than futbol and it forced the Gauchos to adjust their own game. “We have to be willing to play the physical game, Santa Barbara is a very physical team and we had to match that,” explained Head Coach Tim Cupello. The physical style of Thursday’s match obviously ruffled Santa Barbara’s feathers as they earned five yellow cards in this match alone, two of them by Lamar Bautista which resulted in his ejection. The Highlanders proved once again that their resilient mentality was key, as they kept their poise throughout the match and did not earn any cautions of their own.


Despite UCR giving up a two-goal lead, Cupello asserts this match was a huge step forward for his team. Cupello explained Santa Barbara’s come back as, “I think it’s natural for the trailing team to push more numbers forward because there’s a desperation for them.” Cupello also insisted that the early push from the Highlanders did not burn them out in the second half, saying, “I don’t think we gave anything away, it’s disappointing to give up a two goal lead but I think we can learn from this.”


The Highlanders certainly gained experience from this match, as it marks the third consecutive overtime match the Highlanders have played. “It shows a lot spirit from our guys to go through these hard fought games, which in my opinion will serve us well in the postseason,” explained Cupello. This team has high postseason aspirations and their development of a confident team culture and resilient mentality has the makings of a dangerous team. Not only is Riverside capable of competing with any opponent, but they seem to want it more than their opponent in the process. Riverside’s on-field communication was highly prevalent and bellowed into the last row of the stands. Cupello asserts this is a necessary asset to his squad as they were able to tactically adjust on the fly to Santa Barbara’s new line formation. “It showed a lot of maturity and leadership of our guys to be soccer smart and read that on the fly,” Cupello explained, as they adjusted to a line they had not seen on film from Santa Barbara.


UCR picked up a win against Cal Poly on Saturday, Oct. 1 at home and will now travel to UC Davis on Thursday, Oct. 6 as they look to remain unbeaten in conference play.