After winning its first playoff game in the history of the program on Saturday, the UCSB men’s soccer team (18-2-1) plays at Cal (13-5-2) this afternoon at 1:30.
“Berkeley has not lost on their home field all year, but we don’t have a problem with that,” UCSB Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “We’ve played well on the road all year.”
Santa Barbara enters the game riding a seven game win streak, losing last to then #1 Indiana on Oct. 27. The streak is the second longest of the year the Gauchos, as they opened up an 8 game stretch to start the season. This game also provides a chance for Santa Barbara to beat one of the top Pac-10 teams and earn a measure of respect for the Big West Conference.
“We want to let everyone know that the Pac-10 isn’t as strong as everyone thinks,” junior midfielder Matt Kubota said. “They won’t play out of their conference, and there is a reason for that.”
Cal also enters the match looking for a level of respect. Berkeley is 0-8 in postseason history but has improved enough this year to earn a first round bye in the playoffs. The Golden Bears are led by senior goalkeeper Josh Saunders, who was named the 2002 Pac-10 Player of the Year after leading the Pac-10 with 10 shutouts. He is 14th in the nation and third in the conference with a 0.78 goals against average. Including Saunders, Cal placed nine players on the All-Pac-10 team, including sophomore midfielder Mike Munoz, who lead the Golden Bears with seven goals and three assists in 2002.
But goals have been hard to come by this year for Cal, totaling only 28 overall, compared to the 66 netted by the Gauchos. The Bears will also have to face a Santa Barbara team that has not given up a goal in the last 392 minutes.
“We’re playing the right team,” Vom Steeg said. “They are not a big scoring team and their leading goal scorer only has seven goals on the year.”
The story all year for Santa Barbara has been the production of the #4 offense in the nation, putting up 3.14 goals per game. But led by senior midfielder Dan Young and sophomore goalkeeper Danny Kennedy, the defense has also set the tone for the Gauchos. Santa Barbara now ranks 17th in the nation in defense, posting shutouts in 10 of the 21 games it has played.
“I was joking with [freshman defender] Alan [Keely], telling him this is crazy,” Young said. “I had to go up to [senior forward] Rob [Friend] and tell him this is not going to last forever, so keep putting those goals in. Hopefully we can keep it going, because in the playoffs we aren’t going to be scoring three of four goals per game.”
Despite all the momentum, the Gauchos must play a road playoff game for the first time in school history. But Santa Barbara does not expect to face the same kind of crowd that San Diego faced last Saturday at Harder Stadium.
“It’s interesting because they have gone undefeated at home this year because they play in a sterile environment,” said Vom Steeg.
If Santa Barbara wins, it will face the winner of the UCLA/Loyola Marymount game. If UCLA wins, the Gauchos will play at UCLA, but if LMU wins, the Gauchos could host the third round game at Harder Stadium.