After finishing its nonconference portion of the schedule last Sunday with a victory, UCSB men’s soccer team will begin Big West Conference play tomorrow night when the Gauchos host Cal State Fullerton in the first of two weekend matches.
UCSB entered the season with a goal of winning the Big West North Division and reaching the conference championship game, a goal that will largely be impacted this weekend when the Gauchos get the opportunity to start conference play with a statement.
“As much as we’re excited, we’re also looking at making sure that we’ve got the right team on the field that’s healthy and had a good week of practice,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “We have set the goal of winning our side of the Big West … and getting ourselves into a conference championship game. Those are the goals right in front of us and that starts Friday night.”
UCSB concluded nonconference play with three wild games all ending in one-goal margins. The Gauchos dropped back-to-back matches in overtime against New Mexico and Stanford before shutting out LMU, ensuring they enter conference play in a winning fashion with a 5-4 overall record.
Fullerton, meanwhile, enters Friday’s game as the Big West team with the most losses this season with a 3-5 record. The Titans, however, have won their previous two games, outscoring their opponents by a margin of 6-2.
“I think they have good attacking players, and you know, Big West Conference means that you can kind of throw out preseason; it just starts again,” Vom Steeg said. “We have to build on what we’ve done the last week and a half. For us, and for everybody, it all starts on Friday. And whether it’s Northridge or Fullerton, we have to play well to win games.”
Likely to lead the Gauchos’ offensive attack this weekend will be a pair of seniors from France, in midfielder Goffin Boyoko and forward Achille Campion. Boyoko ranks first on the team and fifth in the conference with four goals scored this season, while Campion recorded three goals. Assisting the two will be freshman forward Ismaila Jome, who leads UCSB in assists with four, a mark tied for third in the conference.
While goals have been hard to come by for the Gauchos in nonconference, UCSB cannot afford to play at the same level in the Big West, which features No. 6 Northridge and No. 25 Irvine.
“We have some players who are going to have to step up for us on Friday if we’re going to have a successful run at the conference,” Vom Steeg said. “In general, I think we need every player to play well. I think the league is good enough, and I don’t think anyone is that talented where a team can have two or three players take a night off and still win the game.”
After the Gauchos face Fullerton on Friday, they must immediately prep for UC Riverside on Sunday night, a squad that has given Santa Barbara fits in the past.
“Each time we’ve played them, it seems like we have something missing. They’re a team that has been tough to play against because of the style of play,” Vom Steeg said. “They’re a team in the 4-5-1; they defend, they breakout and for some reason we just have not been able to stamp the game and put them away. Every year that we’ve kept them around, they’ve come back to hurt us.”
Riverside enters Big West play with a 5-2-2 record, yet has lost its last two games by a combined 5-0 margin. The Highlanders will play at Cal Poly Friday night in their Big West opener before traveling to Santa Barbara for Sunday’s match.
“I’m excited by the fact that we’re playing Riverside at our place,” Vom Steeg said. “I think Riverside is probably the toughest place to play in the conference. So the fact that we only play them once and we play that game at UCSB is very good.”
In order for the Gauchos to accomplish their goal of winning the Big West North, they will undoubtedly have to open conference play with a victory, especially considering there are only 10 conference games, with each team splitting the games between home and away.
“The good news is that if you do reach that goal, it means you’re going to have a real good chance to reach the postseason. It’s going to be very, very competitive,” Vom Steeg said. “Whichever team is the most consistent, whichever team is able to come away with some tough wins or at least get a tough win on the road is going to be the team that comes out on top.”
Kickoff for Friday night’s game against Fullerton is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Harder Stadium, while Sunday against Riverside is set for a 5 p.m. start time.
A version of this article appeared on page 1 of Oct. 3r’d print edition of the Daily Nexus.
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