It may only be the third game of league play, but Saturday night at Harder Stadium, the Big West title will be on the line.
The No. 20 Cal State Northridge Matadors, underdogs in the game but legitimate title contenders once again, will attempt to topple the No. 7 UCSB men’s soccer team and grab hold of first place.
“It’s going to be a battle. It’s pretty much between us and them for the conference, so this should be a good one,” junior stopper Tony Lochhead said.
In the Matadors’ way is an increasingly human Santa Barbara team that has played sloppy soccer in their last three matches, but has still survived with two wins.
Wednesday afternoon, the void of senior midfielder David McGill was magnified as the Gauchos came out from halftime with a 1-0 lead at Riverside. Santa Barbara played uninspired and lethargically, giving up a goal only to be bailed out again by junior forward Drew McAthy.
“The problem I had on [Wednesday night’s] game was that we started off strong, had a lot of opportunities, but the disappointment was that game should have been 3, 4 to 0,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “We did get one goal which was good, but at the start of the second half they came out with more intensity and energy.”
Such play simply will not cut it against Northridge, a team that last season left Harder Stadium disgusted and bitter after a physical 4-2 loss. The two teams tied the first contest at Northridge, the only blemish on the Gauchos’ Big West record last season.
“I think they’ve been looking forward to this game since last year. The last time we played them it got really physical and emotional,” Vom Steeg said.
The Matadors are coming off of a dominating 4-1 victory over Irvine while UCSB is still looking to find leadership in the middle of the field.
“We still need a couple of players to take over that role. The goals we gave up to New Mexico were a sign of weak leadership on the field,” Vom Steeg said. “Against Northridge, we’re going to have to make a clear and straightforward game plan.”
To add a little spice to the game, senior midfielder Memo Arzate needs just two assists to tie the all-time career Big West mark of 31. Arzate recorded two assists Wednesday at Riverside and could very well tie the record tonight at the pace he has set for himself.
“He just has great vision. He sees things before they happen. When he gets a chance to make a killer pass, a normal player makes the pass one out of five times, but Memo makes the pass probably one out of two times,” senior forward Neil Jonessaid.