After extending their winning streak to five games in a rollercoaster match at UC Riverside on Sunday, the Gauchos (8-3-2 overall, 4-1 Big West) now turn to another road match tonight, this time at Aggie Field against UC Davis (5-8-0 overall, 3-2 Big West).
[media-credit id=20125 align=”alignleft” width=”250″][/media-credit]Although UCSB has already met Davis this season in a 2-1 double-overtime match two weeks ago, tonight’s matchup will have a much different look. Senior goalkeeper Sam Hayden, who recorded his 20th shutout of his career against Duke, will be the Gauchos’ stopper in the net this time after being forced to sit on the bench for a red-card suspension in the earlier meeting. Sophomore forward Sam Garza, who leads the team in goals, shots and overall points, will also meet the Aggies for the first time this season.
“Now we’ve got [Hayden] and Garza back, but they’ve won three games in a row so they have some momentum now,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “On top of that, it’s the first night game they’ve played in the history of their program because of football. They always draw well, but there will definitely be a lot of people there.”
A lot of people for Davis, though, is not a lot of people for Santa Barbara. Harder has already held three matches this season with over 6,000 fans — two of which had over 10,000 — a record among all Division I soccer programs in the country. Possibly as a result, it took the Gauchos until this Sunday in Riverside to defeat a home team outside fan-and-tortilla-filled Harder.
“Playing outside the confines of Harder without the crowd, without the atmosphere, it’s not easy to get yourself up for these games sometimes,” senior defender Michael Boxall said. “But we’ve thrown enough games away on the road that we have to approach each game the same way we would Duke or UCLA because these are all big games.”
With just four matches left in the regular season, all of them against conference opponents, UCSB has only a handful of chances to secure a top seed in its conference tournament in November. Currently, the Gauchos are on top of the Big West, ahead of UC Irvine (3-0-1). Davis is tied with Cal State Fullerton in third place with a conference record of 3-2.
“How we won [in Riverside], being down a goal right off the bat and being down 3-2 with 20 minutes left gives you a real big boost of confidence,” Vom Steeg said. “It helps to kind of carry you through the season when you have to fight like that. Every one of these games is tough for us, and the road games are even harder because of our crowd and the energy, so we’ll have to bring that energy tomorrow night.”
One source of energy for the Gauchos will be junior midfielder Danny Barrera, who has registered 265 minutes out of a possible 270 in the team’s last three matches. In those matches, he scored two of the Gauchos’ three game-winning goals, including a 75th-minute blast that solidified a 4-3 win for UCSB against Riverside.
“He fits in with the rest of the players now,” Vom Steeg said. “We kind of found the right spot for him on the field and know how to get him the ball in that position. Danny is playing well but it’s a function of the team playing well too.”
UCSB leads the Big West in goals, shots, points, assists and corners so far this season, out shooting opponents 104-41. Against an Aggie squad with a win streak of their own, tonight’s game could be a struggle.
Kickoff is set for 7:15 p.m. tonight before UCSB welcomes Cal State Northridge to Harder Stadium on Saturday night.