This is going to be a big one. In a game that Gaucho fans have had marked on their calendars since the schedule came out last year, the UCSB men’s soccer team takes on the University of Indiana at home this Friday night.
It is the Fox Soccer Channel game of the week. It pits two top-15 teams against each other in mid-season form. The crowd is expected to eclipse 10,000 with a record mark of 12,225 in sight. You better believe this is going to be a classic.
“I know it will be a great soccer game,” Gaucho Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said, putting a little extra emphasis on the word “great.” Vom Steeg would know. The two-time National Coach of the Year has tangled with his fair share of solid squads, including a couple of meetings with the Hoosiers.
In 2004, the Gauchos were riding high — an upstart squad that had blazed a decimating trail through the NCAA playoffs, including a 5-0 rout of Duke in the national semifinals. Indiana, meanwhile, was the defending National Champions, and a veritable juggernaut on the college soccer scene. The two teams tangled in a College Cup Final for the ages, with Indiana prevailing 3-2 on penalty kicks.
Last year, Indiana and UCSB were finally re-matched, this time during a regular season contest in Bloomington. The Gauchos came out firing, playing a first half that Vom Steeg called their best of the year and upended the hometown Hoosiers 2-1.
“They underestimated us last year,” Vom Steeg said. “There is absolutely no way they’ll come in underestimating us in this game. … I think we’re better than last year and I think that they’re better than last year, and that makes this a very intriguing game.”
Intriguing indeed. Indiana (5-2-1) is coming off a 3-0 shellacking of the formerly 13th-ranked University of Kentucky. The Hoosiers are led by forward Will Bruin, who has five goals and two assists in his eight games.
“He’s a big, strong, physical forward,” Vom Steeg said of the sophomore sensation. “He is a forward that can beat you because he’s got a great work rate and physical presence.”
However, Vom Steeg also expressed confidence in his team’s ability to stop Bruin. “It’s a good matchup for us,” he said. “We match up better with a physical forward than a forward that can run away from us.”
Indiana’s two losses have come against #1 Akron and #3 Wake Forest, and its only tie came against then-#5 St. John’s in the season opener. More recently, the Hoosiers won 1-0 at Wisconsin (a team the Gauchos tied) before the aforementioned beating of Kentucky.
“They’re very well coached, fundamentally sound, and they don’t beat themselves,” Vom Steeg said. “… They are going to show up thinking that they should be able to go out and beat us.”
UCSB, on the other hand, has been inconsistent thus far. The Gauchos have stomped Rutgers 4-0 on national TV and blanked the high-powered UC Irvine Anteaters 1-0, yet have also lost winnable games against LMU and San Diego State.
Offense has not been a problem for UCSB — the Gauchos average over two goals per game and have yet to be shut out — but the defense needs to play its finest in order to beat Indiana. At its best, the Santa Barbara back line is a force to be reckoned with, with four shutouts in nine games. At its worst, it is a unit that can give up four and three goals to San Diego State and Pittsburgh, respectively.
So whether the crowd breaks the attendance record or not; whether the Gauchos win 5-0 or lose just as badly; whether it is clear, foggy or pouring rain; Harder Stadium is the place to be on Friday night. After all, it is called the Cathedral of College Soccer for a reason.