The Gauchos play their last regular season home game tonight at Harder Stadium, and if all goes well, they should have at least one more in the postseason.
With two games left in the Big West, the UCSB men’s soccer team will most likely need to win both to retain its Big West title. More importantly, the Gauchos will need all the points they can muster to impress the NCAA committee, which brackets the postseason tournament.
“We’ve put ourselves in a position where we’re definitely one of the top seven teams on the West Coast,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “We’re right in the mix. If we win the next two, I’m almost sure we’d get a home game.”
Cal State Northridge still leads the Big West by one point over the Gauchos, and it controls its own destiny. The two teams standing in their way are Cal Poly and Cal State Fullerton, but the road to the title is difficult because both games are on the road.
“We’ve still got to take care of our own business,” Vom Steeg said. “To a person, part of winning the next two games is to get momentum into the playoffs. Chances are you’re probably not going to go very deep into the postseason if you lose your last two games.”
The gateway to the postseason will be anything but a cakewalk for these Gauchos. Tonight, Fullerton will try to be the only team to sweep Santa Barbara this season. Two and a half weeks ago, the Gauchos lost a decisive Big West match in Fullerton on a thrashed field 4-1. The loss was the Gauchos’ worst of the season and has them primed for a second chance.
“I can’t wait – it was extremely hard watching the boys on Saturday, and it made me more eager to get out there,” senior forward Neil Jones said. “We’ve always thought of Fullerton as a team that comes at you, but they hit a lot of long balls from the back. We didn’t deal with them too well; we need people to step up in the back.”
Jones, along with junior defender Tony Lochhead, will be back for the first time since their one-game suspension for tallying too many yellow cards in league play. The Gauchos will try to build on Saturday’s 3-1 win over Riverside, a game in which they nixed their three-game losing streak.
“We’re just going to make sure we play hard and get those second balls. We need to make sure we’re around for the second ball. Fullerton plays a lot of long balls,” Lochhead said. “They’re definitely one of the better teams we played this year, but we didn’t play too well the last time.”