UCSB senior forward Rob Friend has spent the better part of two years wreaking havoc on opponents in the Big West. But it took a little faith on Friend’s part for his recent Gaucho success to come into fruition.
“We were coming off a season where we went 8-10-1,” UCSB men’s soccer Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “Rob had to have a little faith in us.”
Before transferring to Santa Barbara, Friend came off a year in which he earned a spot on the All-Mid-American Conference team as a sophomore at Western Michigan University. He then took a semester off and decided to transfer to a school out west. He sent out letters to different college teams, and the Gauchos happily responded.
“His size stood out the most,” Vom Steeg said. “We like a big forward up front to occupy the defense.”
At 6’4″ and 205 pounds, Friend was the big forward the Gauchos coveted. Western Michigan’s loss has been UCSB’s sizable gain.
An added bonus was Friend’s international soccer experience. Friend played on both the under-20 and under-23 Canadian National Teams. In his most memorable moment with the national squad, Friend scored the game-tying goal against France in front of 15,000 delirious fans.
“It was the best experience I’ve had in soccer,” Friend said. “It made me realize I want to go as far as I can.”
He traveled around the world to play in matches, and the experience helped his passion for soccer.
“10,000 people were all screaming for their country; they have so much passion for soccer,” Friend said.
The passion Friend gained can easily be seen on the field. During his first season with the Gauchos last year, Friend led the conference with 11 goals and 26 points, earning him the Big West’s Co-Offensive Player of the Year and First Team All-Big West.
After his impressive first year, Friend was all set to leave for his dream of playing soccer professionally in Europe. But, after the selection committee snubbed the Gauchos postseason aspirations, Friend decided to put his professional dreams on hold and finish what he started in Santa Barbara,.
“It was tough to turn down,” Friend said. “But I had a goal in mind to come back this year and win.”
And the Gauchos are doing just that. With the team off to a 9-1 start, Friend leads the nation’s number one offense with 11 goals. Just yesterday, he was named the Big West Player of the Week.
“When he gets the ball, he is looking to shoot,” junior forward Gene Deering said. “He brings a sense of professionalism to the team, and he expects to win.”
Friend and the Gauchos look for another win tonight at 7 p.m. at Harder Stadium against Riverside.
Santa Barbara roars into the game 1-0 in conference play after a narrow win over Cal State Fullerton last week. Friend scored the winning goal at the 88:15 mark, giving the Gauchos a 2-1 win.
“We made the game against Fullerton closer than it should have been,” Deering said.
The Gauchos lead the conference in every offensive category, including a 3.40 goals per game average, which is 1.40 goals ahead of second place Cal State Northridge. They also boast the second best goals against average at 1.08.
UCR heads into the match tied with the Gauchos at 1-0 atop the Big West. Highlander sophomore midfielder Luc Harrington led the way for the Highlanders last week with his first two goals of the year in a 2-1 win over Cal Poly. Harrington, a converted goaltender, boasts a 0.90 goals against average.
“[UCR] is a much better team this year,” Vom Steeg said. “Last year we had to score with 15 minutes left to beat them. We can’t overlook them.”
The win last week over Cal Poly was Riverside’s first since a Sept. 15 shutout of Gonzaga University.