Coming off of one of their most emotional matches in recent memory, a 2-0 victory over UCLA Friday, Gaucho soccer (3-2-2 overall) heads to Fullerton today to play the Titans in their first conference match of the year, as they try to defend last year’s Big West Championship crown.
Fullerton (1-5-2 overall) comes into the match having just played UCLA too, losing a tightly contested match 2-3 on Sunday. According to Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg, UCSB will not get a chance to rest after their UCLA match in which senior goalkeeper Sam Hayden put up a career high six saves, keeping the Bruins off the board, even though UCSB has bested the Titans in each of their last 11 meetings.
“The way they play hasn’t really changed,” Vom Steeg said. “They are a very good attacking team, they recruit good players from junior college that are very good on the ball and so they’re always dangerous offensively.”
The burden of defending against that offense will fall on the shoulders of UCSB’s stellar defense, especially Hayden.
“If we play well I’m confident we’re going to win,” Hayden said. “Every team we play is going to give us their best game, but we should win. We should beat every team that we play.”
Though confidence is high among the whole team after their victory against a nationally ranked UCLA squad, Vom Steeg is making sure his team does not take it too far.
“Confident is a good thing to be going into league,” Vom Steeg said. “At the same time, we have to guard against kind of a let down after such an emotional game. It’s good to have won such a big game, but we have to be careful going into this game and still having our heads here at Harder Stadium.”
Vom Steeg will work to have his team looking to score early against a Fullerton squad that could perhaps have too strong a focus on offense.
“The main thing for us for practice is that when we get our chances to score we put the ball in, because that’s really going to take the pressure off of our defense,” Vom Steeg said. “If we can score early it’ll obviously make it harder for them to get back into the game. We know we’re going to get chances.”
One of those chances could very well come out of freshman forward David Opoku, who put in UCSB’s winning goal against UCLA immediately after being substituted back into the game in the 75th minute. Opoku is tied with sophomore forward Sam Garza for the team’s most goals with three, taking just seven shots.
“[The UCLA match] really helped me to raise my confidence. I was kind of losing it after the other three games,” Opoku said. “My teammates just give me the ball out front and I always try to get it in.”
His coach knows his freshman’s explosive play could be a weapon, but so is the rest of the Gaucho attack.
“He’s really gifted athletically and physically,” Vom Steeg said. “He has all the components to really be a tremendous college player, but he’s still a really young player too. But whether or not it’s David or Garza or Nonni, it doesn’t matter to us who steps up on the night, it’s just important one of our forwards puts something in.”
But do not expect it to be easy.
“We’ve never had easy games at Fullerton,” Vom Steeg said. “We’ve always struggled against them on the road. Every game has been a war.”
Kickoff on Wednesday will be at 7 p.m. in Fullerton’s Titan Stadium before UCSB comes back home for another league match against UC Davis on Saturday.