The Gauchos’ postseason picture will get a lot clearer this weekend.
The #17 UCSB men’s soccer team travels to Big West rival Cal Poly tonight before taking on #1 Indiana on Sunday at Fullerton in arguably the biggest game in school history.
“Anyone who beats Indiana makes the playoffs,” UCSB Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said.
First, though, Santa Barbara must take care of a struggling Mustang squad. Regardless of the results against Cal Poly, the magnitude of Sunday’s game cannot be overlooked for a rising UCSB team.
The Gauchos will welcome #1 Indiana (11-1-2, 6-0 in the Big Ten) to the west, and try to make the Hoosiers remember that Indiana is strictly a basketball state. IU is riding an eleven-game win streak that carried them to their seventh straight Big Ten Conference title last week with a win over Ohio State.
“We wish we could focus all our energy on Indiana,” Vom Steeg said. “They have some players that are very, very good.”
Last week’s College Soccer News National Player of the Week, senior midfielder Ryan Mack, leads IU with eight assists, also tallying six goals. Sophomore forward Ned Grabavoy, a recent selection of the USA’s under-20 national team, has chipped in six goals and seven assists. Grabavoy has collected a goal or an assist in nine out of the last ten games. Senior All-American Pat Noonan leads Indiana with ten goals and seven assists. Last year’s Big Ten Player of the Year is a candidate for the 2002 National Player of the Year award.
“I’ve never lost in a Big Ten season in my four years here,” Noonan said. “This is more of a fighting type team. We have all the skill in the world we need to use.”
The Hoosiers also have one of the most prestigious coaches in college men’s soccer history. Head Coach Jerry Yeagley has won five national titles and has been to the NCAA Tournament 26 out of the 29 years he has coached at Indiana. This year’s team looks to add to his storied credentials.
“This is one of the better teams I’ve had,” Yeagley said. “I like the personality of this team, they are fun and come to train everyday. They play for each other.”
After a 0-0 tie last week at Northridge, the Gauchos (10-1-1, 2-0-1 in the Big West) enter this weekend’s games tied for second in the nation at 3.29 goals per game.
“Other teams have got us figured out,” senior forward Rob Friend said. “The games are tighter and it is tougher to score. I doubt we will be scoring as many goals.”
Cal Poly enters the game with a 0.83 goals per game average, worst in the Big West. The offense finally awoke last week with its highest scoring output of the season by scoring three goals in a double overtime win at Irvine. The 3-2 victory was its first in the conference, and only its second win in the team’s last nine games.
“They play a type of soccer that is unique, they like to get the ball out wide, get the ball in the air, then scramble to the box.” Vom Steeg said.
Sophomore Mustang forward Andre Nestle leads the way with three goals, and sophomore forward Mark Jones and sophomore midfielder Jonathan Young both have two goals apiece.
“We can’t overlook Cal Poly,” junior forward Gene Deering said. “We have to concentrate and stay focused.”
As soon as Friday’s game ends, the Gauchos will only see red.
Opponents have been dropping more defenders back to combat the Gauchos’ high-powered offense. News about the UCSB offense has even reached Bloomington.
“They are extremely talented,” Indiana captain and senior defender John Swann said.” I don’t know if there is a defense that can stop them.”