Midterms are quickly approaching and, even with its #1 national ranking, the UCSB men’s soccer team is not going to get off the hook.
The Gauchos (11-0-1 overall, 4-0-0 Big West) are studying hard for a big test, traveling to Northridge, where UCSB has not won during the past three years. The Gauchos’ last win on the road against the Matadors came in 2000, before any current team member began their UCSB career.
“I think that that’s the kind of challenge that is great for a team like this. We look at that as a challenge. I think we’re trying to take on all challenges,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “I’m excited about Saturday, and I know the team is excited.”
Northridge, the defending conference champions, could prove difficult to beat again, with a 5-1 record in their past six matches. The one loss in that span came in overtime at the hands of Fullerton on Wednesday night.
The Gaucho offense has been rolling lately. UCSB has scored 12 goals over three games, including a 5-1 win over Cal Poly. Senior forward Drew McAthy leads the team with 10 goals on the season and 45 in his UCSB career. McAthy needs just one goal to reach the top spot in the Gaucho career goals record book.
“The win against Cal Poly showed that our offense is really starting to take. We’re starting to get really dangerous on the attack,” junior midfielder Nate Boyden said. “Again with the Riverside win, what stood out was that it was a good confidence builder for people in the back. So it looks like we’re firing on all pistons in regards to offense and defense.”
Saturday’s face-off will match the reigning Big West Co-Players of the Week. Northridge sophomore forward Willie Sims shared the conference honors with UCSB senior forward Neil Jones. Sims scored three goals in two Big West games last week to lead Northridge past Cal Poly and Irvine.
Since Big West play began, Jones has kept his #2 pencil sharp. In four conference matches, the New Zealand native has racked up 17 points on 10 goals and nine assists.
Although its preseason shutout streak has ended, the UCSB defense is still holding off opposing offenses. Senior goalkeeper Danny Kennedy touts a goals-against average well under one and seven shutouts on the season. Kennedy held Riverside scoreless in the first half on Wednesday afternoon. His defense, anchored by senior Tony Lochhead and freshman sweeper Andy Iro, continues to impress, coming into the week with the #7 goals-against average in the nation.
Helping out Kennedy in the back and McAthy and Jones up front is the Gauchos’ midfield. After losing David McGill, Memo Arzate and Matt Kubota to graduation last year, UCSB was unsure what would happen in the middle. With juniors Boyden, Efren Mata, Corey Wood and freshman Tyler Rosenlund, this year’s new midfield is continuing to prove itself on both sides of the ball.
“We’ve obviously benefited. Efren has played better the last couple games, and Tyler, I think, benefits from kind of coming off the bench,” Vom Steeg said. “Definitely it’s been a key for us, scoring goals from the midfield.”
The Gauchos look to ace their big exam Saturday at 3 p.m. before returning home to host Irvine next week.