After a frustrating weekend when the UCSB men’s soccer team tied a game and dropped another while outplaying both opponents, the Gauchos are primed for the start of Big West play this Friday.
Santa Barbara will kick-off conference play against Cal State Fullerton, which comes into the game at 3-4-1. The Titans have lost four out of their last five, one game to UCLA 4-1, a team the Gauchos (4-3-2) battled to a scoreless tie despite playing shorthanded for nearly half the match.
But Santa Barbara has been floundering offensively. They haven’t scored in over 206 minutes and have not had the killer instinct they possessed in their early matches.
UCSB will be looking to senior forward and Canadian national Rob Friend to halt the scoring drought. Friend had the Gauchos last goal, a bullet in the fourth minute against Fresno State, and has taken 12 shots in the last two games.
But Santa Barbara has more options than just Friend. Eight other Gauchos have scored this season, although none of them have multiple goals. Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg has been looking for another forward to play consistently with Friend in tandem, but so far he hasn’t found a permanent choice.
While the UCSB offense has been searching for a spark, the defense has been steady, allowing only two goals in the last three games. Much of this success is thanks to freshman goalkeeper Dan Kennedy who looks to be in top form, shutting out four opponents already this year and playing almost flawlessly in his last three starts.
Senior defender Reuben Bates, sophomore defender Neil Jones, and freshmen defenders Tony Lochhead and Alex Tablin-Wolf have kept the back clear of danger. Tablin-Wolf has recently acquired a starting role due to the injury of Galen Donaldson and has stepped up nicely to fill the void with heads-up, physical play.
The biggest Gaucho question lies in the midfield. With senior Steven Sosa out on an injury, Santa Barbara has been looking for a midfield playmaker. Junior Dan Young has been the answer in the last three games, winning almost every 50-50 ball and outworking his opposition. But Sosa is a player who makes the big passes and UCSB has missed him dearly as of late.
Following the game with Fullerton, the Gauchos will take the field again on Sunday against another Big West foe, Irvine. The Anteaters have a 4-3-3 record. UCI is lead by senior forward Jon Spencer, who was named Big West Player of the Week last week for a pair of timely goals.
The Gauchos will look to continue their overall dominance of UCI. Santa Barbara owns a 17-8 all-time record against the Anteaters.
The two teams have faced three of the same opponents this year. Both battled to a tie against Denver, but while UCSB tied UCLA, Irvine upset them 1-0 on a goal by senior midfielder Saul Wolf. Both schools lost to San Jose State, the Gauchos falling 3-1, while the Anteaters dropped the game 2-1.
UCSB takes on Fullerton today at 7 p.m. in Harder Stadium while the game with UCI is scheduled for a Sunday kickoff at 4 p.m.