Undefeated and rolling, the UCSB men’s soccer team of a year ago went into nationally ranked Loyola Marymount University thinking upset, but a late unwarranted call gave the Lions a one-man advantage and enough leverage to set down the Gauchos.
This year, it is the No.9 Gauchos, undefeated again, who are the favorites and cushioned with home field advantage.
What a difference a year makes.
Last year, star senior midfielder Memo Arzate was accused of throwing a punch that didn’t seem to actually happen, prompting the referee to toss the Arzate out of the game. The slipup was one of only three losses for Santa Barbara last year.
Arzate and the Gauchos are on their best behavior now. This week, the senior was named to the Soccer America’s and College Soccer News’ National Team of the Week while the Gauchos inched up in many polls, recognized as high as 7th in the College Soccer News’ latest poll and 9th in both the NSCAA and Soccer Times polls.
The national attention is well-deserved. In its last 36 games, Santa Barbara has posted a staggering 30-4-2 record and have posted two-straight Big West titles in rapidly improving conference.
While UCSB has been the catalyst of the Big West’s improvement, LMU has been a staple in the West Coast Conference. This year though, the Lions’ luster has worn a little.
“It’s still a big game, last year they were undefeated and very strong,” UCSB Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “This year they’ve lost two of their better players so they’re not quite as strong, but still good.”
The Gauchos refuse to take the Lions lightly.
“They beat us last year so it’s good to get to play them again and get some revenge,” senior forward Neil Jones said. “But we have to keep in mind that they have a lot to gain from this. If they win, that would really help their playoff chances, beating a top ten team, so we can’t take them lightly.”
If the Tigers stand any chance this Sunday at Harder stadium, taking Jones lightly would be a serious mistake. The striker, along with fellow front-man junior Drew McAthy, has six goals already, 27th best in the nation.
“If anyone has really surprised us at all it would be Neil. He has been playing a different position [forward] this year and has exceeded all our expectations,” Vom Steeg said.
As a senior, Jones has already doubled his career-goal total, two of which proved to be game winners for the Gauchos. Moreover, Jones has amassed 15 points with three assists, the 17th highest point total in the nation.