Once again, the #13 UCSB men’s soccer team is under the spotlight.
[media-credit id=20124 align=”alignleft” width=”250″][/media-credit]The squad looks to win its eighth straight tonight in its second nationally-televised match of the season, where it faces conference rival Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo.
“I just feel like Cal Poly is a difficult place to play, starting with the setup there,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “The field plays really tight, you put 8,000 people in the stands and you can’t really hear yourself on the field, you can’t really communicate with your team.”
With UC Irvine (5-0-1 conference) hot on the Gauchos’ heels for first place in the conference, the Big West’s top spot may ride on this match against the Mustangs.
The two squads already met once at Harder on Oct. 12, where the Gauchos prevailed on a last-minute goal from junior midfielder Luis Silva. The team was also missing senior defender Michael Boxall — an important element on a defense that has recorded seven shutouts this season.
“I’m a little disappointed I missed the home match against Cal Poly, so hopefully I’ll put all the energy from that game into this one,” Boxall said. “Every time we travel up there the games are sold out. It’s great to play in that sort of atmosphere. I’m definitely excited to get back.”
This televised game should draw an especially large audience, but the Gauchos are used to big crowds — averaging over 6,600 fans at home games. They became the only soccer team in Division-I soccer history to fill 10,000 seats twice in the same season.
“The TV cameras add to excitement,” Vom Steeg said. “It makes them a tougher team to beat when 10,000 people show up. We knew that going in and we know the challenges playing at UCSB, and it means that every game takes on a life of its own.”
Coming off of a four-goal shutout against Cal State Northridge last week, the Gaucho offense should be running on all cylinders. Sophomore forward Sam Garza leads the Big West in goals, points and shots this season, including a hat trick against Northridge.
“I’ve never played there [San Luis Obispo] before, but I’ve seen it on TV,” Garza said. “This will be a lot tougher game [than Northridge]. We’re going to have our hands full tomorrow.”
Vom Steeg also talked about the four-goal breakout his team had against the Matadors.
“We’re playing well at the right time of the year,” he said. “We’re finally feeling like a goal can really come from a lot of different players, which is a far cry from where we were in the first five or seven games.”
With just three games left in the regular season before the league tournament begins in November and just a two-point lead over Irvine in the conference standings, every game from here on out counts.
“It’s everything [to win out],” Garza said. “If we want a good seeding in the tournament and a Big West championship, that’s what we’re going to have to do. We have our two toughest games back to back so hopefully we get a win [tonight] and that set us up to play Irvine. It’s a big week for us.”
Kick off at Alex G. Spanos Stadium is set for 8 p.m. before the squad travels to Irvine on Saturday to take on the Anteaters. Tonight’s match will be aired on the Fox Soccer Channel.