After passing their most demanding test of the Big West season on Saturday night against Cal State Northridge, the two-time defending champion UCSB men’s soccer team is one step closer to becoming three-time defending champions.

“This is a huge win for us. Now we’re five points better than [Northridge] and we’re working hard to get this three-peat,” senior forward Neil Jones said.

A roller coaster 3-2 win over the #20 Matadors put the #7 Gauchos in a prime position in the Big West, thanks in large part to senior midfielder Memo Arzate, who tied the Big West career assists record of 31 held by Ricky Villa of Fresno State.

“Memo is the best player I’ve ever played with. He truly deserves this,” Jones said.

With eight games left in the season, the record will be Arzate’s very soon in all likelihood.

“The most impressive thing about Memo is his work rate. We talk about going from box-to-box but Memo just goes everywhere,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “I don’t think there is a fitter person in the nation.”

Arzate’s last assist of the night proved to be the difference maker for the Gauchos. At the 63:51 mark, Arzate lifted a corner kick that found the head of freshman midfielder Jeff Murphy, who re-directed the ball into the back of the net to break a 2-2 tie.

“It’s a great accomplishment but it’s not like I was thinking about it during the game,” Arzate said. “If it happens, it happens, but when I’m out there I’m just thinking about playing the game.”

The goal capped off a scoring frenzy that included three goals in three minutes between the two teams. Just before Murphy’s game-winner, Northridge midfielder Gabriel Montoya was fouled in the Gaucho box, earning teammate Willie Sims a penalty kick and Northridge a 2-2 tie.

The goal was a quick response to junior forward Drew McAthy’s 10th goal of the season, a rebound off senior midfielder Darren Doi’s shot that gave the Gauchos their first lead of the night.

Statistically, Santa Barbara dominated from start to finish. The Gauchos held the nation’s top-ranked offense to a staggering eight shots in the contest while totaling 23 for themselves.

I just can’t say enough about our defense, holding that team to just eight shots,” Vom Steeg said. “The game plan was to keep five players back on defense and keep sending three of our guys up front so we were essentially playing a 5-2-3.”

Also in on the scoring Saturday was Jones, who tied the game 1-1 in the first half on an assist from Arzate and junior forward Matt Bly. The goal was Jones’ 10th of the season, as the tenacious duo of Jones and McAthy lead the Big West in shots taken and goals scored.

The two are making the Big West forget about UCSB legend Rob Friend, and proving to be just as effective as the Gaucho front line of a year ago.

“I told Neil that last night I had this vision of Neil playing like Rob for just one night and I think tonight was that night,’ Vom Steeg said. “He gave us a very Rob-like performance.”

The win makes the Gauchos 10-1-1 on the year and 3-0 in the Big West, solidifying their hold on first place. Meanwhile, Northridge drops to 7-2-2 overall, 1-1-1 in the Big West and two unlikely upsets from first place.