UCSB is an exciting place to go to school, but there are few events every year that really get the students going, more so than usual. Friday night is going to be one of those eventful nights as the UCSB men’s soccer team is set to face Stanford at Harder Stadium where record crowds are expected.
Traditionally, the first soccer home game after students move in is always a must-go event. This year is no exception as the Gauchos take on a prominent opponent in the Cardinal, and all of campus is abuzz in anticipation of Friday night’s match.
“Everyone is fired up for this game,” senior midfielder Fifi Baiden said. “Anytime we have a game at Harder Stadium it’s like we have this switch on. We receive most of our energy from the crowd.”
Entering the contest with a 4-3 record, UCSB must face a tough Stanford squad (4-1-1 on the season) that is set to spoil what looks to be one of the marquee matchups for the Gauchos this season.
The last time UCSB faced such a well-known team on the first game following student move in was back in 2010 when the Gauchos set an NCAA on-campus record with 15,896 fans in attendance in a 2-0 victory against UCLA. Record crowds make sense when factoring in that UCSB has led the nation in attendance for six consecutive seasons.
“Friday is a huge game for us, and it’s one of the games that we need to have to keep our season going forward,” Baiden said. “Looking back on the UCLA game, it was really, really great to play under that crowd and it gives us that extra edge to go extra hard and play well. It’s going to be good for us in terms of energy, in terms of confidence, in terms of giving it all on the field.” Despite falling to New Mexico 1-0 and allowing a goal with 12 seconds left to play in overtime, the Gauchos are playing well and that all starts on the defensive side of the ball. Baiden stars alongside a trio of senior defenders in Peter Schmetz, Daniel Welsh and Matt Glodack to form a stingy backline that has allowed seven goals in seven games this season.
With freshman goalkeeper Josh McNeely in between the posts, UCSB’s defense has allowed one goal each of the last four games, with McNeely allowing a mere four goals in five starts.
While defense has been key for the Gauchos, the offensive production has seen rocky moments at times this season. Despite the efforts of a pair of seniors in forward Achille Campion and Goffin Boyoko, the Gaucho offense has failed to score in three separate occasions, the team’s only losses of the year. Campion and Boyoko are tied for the team lead in goals with three apiece.
“We have five freshmen who have been starting. We lost a lot of the goals that were scored last year, those players graduated or became professional players,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “We’re having to find a different way of scoring this year and it has just taken some time. The younger players have gotten better every single game and we’re hoping that our seniors start to become consistently dangerous in front of the net.”
Stanford, meanwhile, has won four straight, allowing one goal during that span. The Cardinal are led by senior goalkeeper Drew Hutchins who has allowed six goals in six starts, and are paced on the offensive end by junior forward Zach Batteer, as he has scored an impressive four of Stanford’s nine goals.
Even when considering Stanford’s talent on both sides of the ball, UCSB seems less dependent on talent and more so on energy that will fuel the team’s confidence entering Friday night.
“There’s just very few events that happen at UCSB where everyone can show up to one place,” Vom Steeg said. “It’s the one event where everyone at UCSB can come out and throw on a yellow shirt and cheer on our team. I think that makes the event special, it’s what makes UCSB special.”
One thing is clear about the UCSB men’s soccer team entering Friday night. They want every single member of the UCSB community in attendance when they take the field against Stanford. It is, after all, another chance to make history.
“This is one of those moments where everyone can come together and cheer for our school and cheer for us to win the game. I would basically tell everyone don’t miss it,” Vom Steeg said. “Anyone who was at the UCLA game three years ago probably wishes there were more events like that because obviously that was a real special night. You want to be a part of that.”
Friday’s epic match is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. at Harder.
A version of this article appeared on pages 1 and 8 of September 26, 2013′s print edition of The Daily Nexus.
Photo by Cedar Lay of The Daily Nexus.