With the Big West North Division title already secured, the No. 7 UCSB men’s soccer team will host UC Davis on Saturday with a chance to secure the top spot in the entire conference and extend its undefeated streak to nine games.
Santa Barbara enters Saturday with an impressive 11-4-1 overall and 6-0-1 conference record, while Davis sits in third place in the Big West North, holding a 6-8-2 record and 2-4-1 mark in the Big West.
“They’re coming to our field and we played them once, so we know what we’re going to get ourselves into,” senior defensive midfielder Fifi Baiden said. “We feel pretty confident that we can beat them at home. It is always nice to play in front of your home fans.”
UCSB enters Saturday night’s match coming off a 1-1 tie at rival Cal Poly last Friday in front of a sell-out crowd. The draw ended Santa Barbara’s seven-game winning streak, but secured the North Division for the Gauchos and kept them undefeated in conference play.
Davis, meanwhile, fell 1-0 to last-place Sacramento State, but still remains alive for the second qualifying spot for the Big West Tournament out of the North division.
“Davis is playing to get into the playoffs and that’s what happens when you play these last few games, there’s a playoff intensity about them,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “It makes for exciting games, it makes for usually really tight games.”
Last time out against the Aggies, UCSB pulled out an exciting 3-2 double overtime victory in front of a raucous Davis crowd.
“All these games are going to be tight because when you are familiar with each other you start to take things away from the other team,” Vom Steeg said. “They start to get pretty familiar with what you do and we’re familiar with what they do.”
Despite the familiarity, UCSB still holds an advantage over Davis, ranking third in the conference in goals scored with 26 and first in goal allowed with 15. The Aggies, meanwhile, have scored the second fewest goals with 16, but have also allowed the third fewest with 16.
“[Davis] is a team that has not won a game when they have been scored on once,” Vom Steeg said. “We’re comfortable coming back from being behind. They are undefeated after being ahead in the game and they have not won when they have fallen behind.”
Ranked No. 7 in the RPI rankings, UCSB is seemingly in good position to clinch an NCAA appearance regardless of the results of the Big West Tournament. Santa Barbara, however, can strongly improve its standing if it can complete a historic undefeated conference schedule.
“The key for us is we’re playing for what happens after the Big West,” Vom Steeg said. “We feel good about what’s going to happen over the next three games and where we stand, but the reality is it’s the conference tournament champion who gets the automatic selection. We need to be in a position where win or lose the conference tournament, we know we’re in the NCAA tournament.”
Kickoff against UC Davis is scheduled for 7 p.m Saturday night at Harder Stadium.
A version of this article appeared on page 6 of October 31, 2013′s print edition of The Daily Nexus.
Photo by Peter Vandenbelt of The Daily Nexus.