The UCSB men’s soccer team is preparing to take on UC Davis on Saturday, and they will certainly face a challenge. The Aggies are 10-1-1, and unbeaten in conference play at 2-0-1.
“Any time you play Davis is a defensive battle,” Gaucho senior forward Nick Perera said.
That makes it even more difficult for Santa Barbara. For a team that has been defensively challenged all season long, a defensive battle is far from an ideal game. However, the struggles are not just with the back line.
“We need to limit our defensive errors.” Perera said. “It’s a whole team effort. It’s got to be top to bottom, whole-team defensive discipline.”
The Gauchos certainly did not have that on Wednesday, when they looked like the dominant squad against Cal State Northridge but were unable to come up with a win. The two squads battled to a 2-2 tie, complete with a couple of squandered Gaucho leads. The first goal was the result of a defensive breakdown, and had UCSB not given their lead away so early the outcome might well have been very different.
“We made two mistakes, and they capitalized on them,” senior striker Chris Pontius said. “Other than that, I thought we played pretty well. But that’s the game of soccer.”
While Northridge was a formidable foe, the Aggies are likely to be even more difficult. Davis, in only its second year in the Big West, is trying to make a statement against the already well-established Gauchos. Last year UCSB won the first contest 4-0 but tied in the second. The latter was an intense affair at Harder Stadium, featuring several red cards and a fight. This year UCD is hoping to prove they belong in the rankings among the top teams in the country. However, history is not on their side.
“In my four years here we haven’t lost a home league game here. It’s a huge home-field advantage,” Pontius said.
He is absolutely right, too. UCSB has not lost a home match in Big West play since Oct. 21, 2004. Over that span the Gauchos have gone 17-0-4 against conference foes in the friendly confines of Harder Stadium. One of those ties came Wednesday, and another was the Davis contest last year.
The key to success for UCSB will likely rest in its ability to avoid mistakes. If they finally gel as a defensive unit, Davis may be in for a rough night. If not, the Gauchos can likely expect the same.
“Once our defense is set, that’s when we’ll start making our run,” freshman keeper Kristopher Minton said. “Until then, we have no idea what’s going to happen this year.”
Things only get more challenging for the Gauchos though, with a vastly improved Big West conference to take on. Four teams are all ranked around the top 25, and every team is looking to dethrone Santa Barbara.
“It’s never easy,” freshman keeper Kristopher Minton said. “With our reputation as being UCSB… everyone brings their A-game.”
If the Gauchos return the favor and play their best against UC Davis, expect a very entertaining contest.
“Every team we play will be a good, hard fight,” Minton said.
This game just might be a little more so.