It only took Rob Friend four minutes to notch his first point as a Gaucho, a crisp pass to freshman defender Tony Lochhead against Long Island. But Friend wasn’t through yet. Santa Barbara fans only had to wait until the next half for Friend’s next crucial pass, an assist to sophomore midfielder Matt Kubota.

In fact, in the Gauchos’ first three games the junior forward tallied six total points, adding a goal in each of UCSB’s next two contests. Just like that, the Gauchos were beginning to rally behind Friend’s skill and natural leadership.

“[Rob] is a great all-around player. He’s our main go-to guy and he’s really what we were missing last year,” Kubota said. “He’s almost unstoppable.”

The statistics back up Kubota’s comments. Friend leads all Gauchos with a staggering 21 shots in six games. In his first week as a Gaucho, Friend was named Big West Player of the Week, and who could argue – he led or was tied in the conference in nearly every offensive category, including shots, assists, goals and total points.

Senior defender and co-captain Reuben Bates believes that Friend will help raise the UCSB team to new heights.

“He’s brought that killer instinct we’d been lacking up top,” Bates said. “And Rob’s a great character on and off the field. He really leads by example.”

Hailing from Kelowna, British Columbia, Friend was a member of the Canadian national team, an experience that has helped his maturity on the field as well as his decision making. During his stint with the men’s 23 and under national team, he played four games and slotted four goals and two assists, including a two goal, one assist outing against Bulgaria. A newcomer to the Gauchos this season, Friend is a transfer from Western Michigan where he earned All Mid-American Conference honors his sophomore season. He accumulated nine goals in his two seasons there.

“He’s just a big-time guy,” Bates said.

UCSB is going to need Friend to be on top of his game in the Gauchos next game versus UCLA because injuries are starting to take their toll on the squad. After an ankle injury to sophomore forward Gene Deering last game against San Jose State, the Gauchos were down to only three healthy forwards after starting the season with six. But the team can expect a return from senior forward Jaime Ambriz, who finished with six goals last season despite playing in only 14 games, which thankfully brings the number of available forwards up to four. That doesn’t mean the Gauchos won’t miss Deering.

“Gene was crucial for his work ethic and speed, so it hurts to have such a hardworking forward out for so long,” said senior forward Joe Hubay-Dies.

Bates shared in Hubay-Dies’ conclusion.

“You can’t replace what Gene brought to the field. He got into the San Jose game and scored almost immediately.”

The Gauchos will also be without junior midfielder Dan Young who was red carded for participating in an on-field scuffle against San Jose.

Santa Barbara is not worried though. Even with these key players out, the team feels secure in the depth of its roster and the strength of its squad. Much of this confidence comes from the newcomers added this season. Freshman forward Matt Bly brings speed and scoring ability, while freshman Tony Lochhead and sophomore Neil Jones both help hold down the Gauchos tough defense. Santa Barbara also acquired freshman forward Drew McAthy, brother and teammate of junior midfielder Aaron McAthy who played his first season with UCSB last year. Another key newcomer is freshman goalkeeper Dan Kennedy who has accumulated three shutouts in six games.

The Gauchos play a double header with the women’s soccer team on Friday. The women play Weber State at 6, with the men closing the night out against UCLA at 8.