The UCSB men’s soccer team faces its toughest test of the preseason when it hosts No. 2 UCLA this Saturday.
The Gauchos enter the weekend at 2-2-1 overall while the rival Bruins come in with a 3-1-2 record.
“[The Bruins] keep the ball really well,” sophomore midfielder Ismaila Jome said. “A lot of teams have really pressured them and a lot of teams have just sat back against them, but we intend to pressure them, get them off the ball and get them on the counter attack.”
Spearheading UCSB’s attack will be Jome, the player who currently leads the team with four total points (one goal, two assists). The young standout has lived up to early season expectations after being the only Gaucho named to the Big West Men’s Preseason All-Conference Team.
While it hasn’t been a perfect start to the season for Santa Barbara, their only two losses did come against a pair of top 25 ranked teams in No. 19 Furman and No. 23 Stanford. With a relatively younger squad, the Gauchos are looking forward to what will be their biggest test before the beginning of conference play just two weeks from now.
“We are a young team, and those were two hard tests which we obviously lost, but we’ve just grown as a team because of those tough losses,” Jome said. “The more games we get under our belt before conference the better. UCLA will be a big indicator of where we are right now, so we’re looking forward to that.”
If UCSB is going to be able to come away with a favorable result this weekend, they will have to find a way to contain UCLA midfielder Leo Stolz. The senior leads his team with two goals and six shots on goal through six games.
The Gauchos will also be looking to keep possession numbers as even as possible, as the Bruins have shown that they are one of the best in the nation at holding the ball so far this season.
“The key to the game is pressuring UCLA up the field and dispossessing them in their own half, and getting looks off that,” Jome said. “We need to be disciplined in our own half and not make mistakes like we did against Stanford and Furman which cost us cheap goals.”
UCSB brings to the match a very balanced offensive attack which has seen a total of eight goals scored by eight different players through its first five games.
After going winless in three straight games, the Gauchos pulled off a 4-1 win over Colgate last weekend, a match which saw midfielder Drew Murphy score his first goal of the season. The sophomore will be another important player to watch going against a stingy Bruin defense that has allowed an average of just .667 goals per game to opponents this season.
“We knew we had to make a big statement against Colgate and we did that getting a 4-1 result. It just pushes our momentum forward going against UCLA,” Jome said. “I think we’ve made great strides to get where we need to be as far as just communicating on the field, knowing where we need to be, and being more disciplined as a team.”
Defensive struggles have plagued UCSB early in the season, as it has allowed an average of two goals per game to opponents. However, the Gauchos are lucky to be facing a slumping Bruin offense which was just shutout in consecutive double-overtime home games last weekend.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. this Saturday at Harder Stadium.