None of the players on this year’s UCSB squad have ever lost to Cal State Fullerton. They hope this year will not be any different. Halfway through conference play, Santa Barbara needs every win it can get in order to stay in the hunt for the Big West title. While Fullerton may be near the bottom of the barrel in the league, the Gauchos are certainly not taking the Titans lightly.
“We’ve struggled every time we’ve played at Fullerton,” senior co-captain Alfonso Motagalvan said. “It’s not going to be an easy game, but I think we’re up for the task.”
To beat the Titans, UCSB (8-4-2, 3-1-1 Big West) will need to play solid defense, something the Gauchos have had trouble with so far this season. However, there are positives for UCSB. Against rival and Big West contender Cal Poly, the Gaucho defense earned its second shutout of the season, and freshman keeper Kristopher Minton’s first.
“It’s not about scoring goals,” Motagalvan said. The senior has had to shift this year to a more defensive roll from his usual midfield spot, due to a lack of depth on the back line. “It’s about playing defense. If we do our job, we know the offense will come through and we’ll get a win.”
That is exactly what happened against the Mustangs in the Gauchos’ last game. After 100 minutes of play, UCSB’s defense had kept Cal Poly off the board, keeping the game scoreless and forcing two overtime periods. Just 10 seconds into the second overtime, the defense’s persistence was rewarded by a Chris Pontius golden goal to win the game. The goal was the senior forward’s team-leading 11th of the season, and he is far and away the most dangerous threat up top for the Gauchos. Motagalvan and senior Nick Perera are second on the team with four goals apiece, but Pontius has been the anchor of the potent attack.
After such an emotional victory, UCSB might be in danger of a letdown game against the Titans. Then again, one can be sure that Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg has instilled the significance of every game into this young team, especially at this late stage of the season. The veteran leaders, for their part, certainly understand.
“If we don’t win this game we put ourselves in a bad position,” Motagalvan said. “We want the whole team to be clicking at the right time going into the later part of the season.”
UCSB is right near the top of the Big West standings, currently tied with Cal Poly for second place with 10 points. However, the Mustangs have played one more game than the Gauchos to reach that milestone, and conference leader UC Davis has played twice more than Santa Barbara. The Gauchos are currently four points out of first but have two extra games to catch up. Each win is worth three points and every tie is worth one.
With just five games to go in the regular season, every contest counts. UCSB needs to take advantage of this opportunity against the 3-11-1 Titans and pick up some points in the Big West.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Fullerton’s Titan Stadium.