Coming off of its first loss since late September yesterday against Cal Poly, UCSB men’s soccer will look to bring energy to Irvine on Saturday when the team takes on the Anteaters in a matchup featuring the Big West’s top two teams.
UC Irvine (13-1-2 overall, 6-0-1 Big West) just surpassed the Gauchos (10-4-2, 6-2-0) for the top spot in the conference. With just two games remaining for UCSB and three for Irvine, Saturday’s match has huge implications for the Big West’s regular season crown.
“We have a lot of motivation, there’s definitely a little chip on our shoulder to come out and play well because we certainly didn’t do that against Cal Poly,” senior goalkeeper Sam Hayden said. “We made some mistakes and didn’t stick with our marks. It humbled us a lot.”
Hayden and the rest of the defense will not get much time off, though, as Irvine fields one of the most potent offenses in the conference. The Anteaters have 41 goals on the season, with forward Amani Walker leading the team with 10 of those.
“Walker is really good in the air and [Spencer] Thompson is as well,” Hayden said. “We’re going to have our hands full, but we have the personnel to deal with it. That’s all we really need to do, just to play our game.”
Luckily for UCSB, the Gauchos have an offensive powerhouse of their own in sophomore forward Sam Garza. Garza has nine goals on the season from 52 shots, leading the team in both categories. Freshman forward David Opoku adds five goals of his own on just 13 shots in his first season with UCSB.
Scoring early has been a strength for those two recently. Against Cal State Northridge, Garza and Opoku scored a combined hat trick by only the 12th minute of the match. Against Cal Poly, though, a single early goal was not enough. On Saturday, Vom Steeg will have his team looking to rectify that mistake.
Kickoff on Saturday is set for 8 p.m. at Anteater Stadium before the Gauchos return to action on Nov. 6 to play UC Riverside in their final regular season match of the year.