Every title must be defended. Even by teams not steeped in rich tradition.
After the first modern Big West crown under its belt and a near perfect non-conference reign, the UCSB men’s soccer team opens conference play against Cal State Fullerton Saturday at 7 p.m. at Harder Stadium, the first of several impatient suitors green with envy of the Gauchos.
“We are the defending champs so we have to expect to see the best that every team has to offer,” sophomore forward Drew McAthy said. “We know that from here on out, every game will be a battle.”
The Titans will seek to contain a team that has won eight of its first nine games this year and 15 of its past 19 games since Santa Barbara began Big West play last year.
Fullerton, which finished third in the Big West last year, handed UCSB one of its two conference losses last year. The Titans own a misleading 3-5-1 record. Four of CSUF’s five losses have come at the hands of perennial top-25 teams.
“Cal State Fullerton is a very dangerous team; they have six or seven players that can dribble better than most people on our team. Our challenge is going to be containing those players,” junior midfielder Neil Jones said. “We need to jump on them early and stamp our authority on the match.”
The bitter loss at Fullerton near the end of 2001 may have hindered the Gauchos’ postseason opportunity.
No. 24 UCSB will be forced to play without the nation’s top assist man in junior midfielder Memo Arzate, who earned a red card last Sunday in a 1-0 loss to No. 8 LMU for supposedly punching an opponent. Arzate, averaging 1.22 assists per game, twice notched three assists in one game.
“The player stepping into [Arzate’s] position, Neil Jones, will have to orchestrate our attack,” junior forward Gene Deering said.
With Arzate’s absence, senior frontman Rob Friend will also assume added pressure. Friend, currently tied for 10th in the nation for goals per game (1.11), totes the ninth-highest point per game average (2.56).
Friend will not be the only concern for CSUF, for UCSB boasts the best offensive team in the nation. McAthy (7 goals) and Deering (5) represent relentless threats to any defense. Only time will tell if the Gauchos’ stellar offense will suffice as an adequate defense to the throne.