The school year is young, but the UCSB men’s soccer season is already at its best. The #14 Gauchos host their fellow Big West powerhouse Northridge this weekend.
UCSB (6-2-1 overall, 3-0 in the Big West) is coming off two straight conference wins, including Wednesday’s convincing 4-0 victory at Fullerton. Senior Ivan Becerra has been outstanding up top for the Gauchos. He netted his seventh and eighth goals of the season in the win over the Titans.
“Ivan has put us on his back and carried us so far,” said junior Kyle Reynish. “The early goals our offense have been providing us definitely relieve some of the pressure on the back line. When we have to come from behind, the pressure is on us. When we are ahead, our defense can step up and slow our opponents down.”
The Matadors (6-2-1 overall, 2-0 Big West) have won two straight as well, with victories over Riverside and Cal Poly.
The last time these two teams met was near the end of the 2004 regular season. Northridge came to Harder Stadium with the conference championship on the line, and the Gauchos squeezed out a 2-1 victory from behind, the first step in their magical run into the College Cup finals.
The Matadors did hand UCSB one of its few losses last season, a 3-1 loss in Northridge.
“This matchup is always the best one of the season,” Reynish said. “Of the last three Big West titles, we have two and they have one, so we know what is always on the line.”
The Gauchos are atop the Big West standings with their three wins. Both Northridge and Irvine sit in second with unblemished 2-0 conference records.
Starring for the Matadors is junior forward Willie Simms. Simms was the Big West Co-Offensive Player of the Year last season, along with former Gaucho Drew McAthy.
The talented scorer will test the Gaucho defense, but the squad seems up to the task. UCSB has only given up one goal in three Big West matches, and only seven in the nine nonconference games on the year. The return of senior defender Pat Scott to the back line for UCSB should help to squelch the Matador attack.
After sputtering off the block, the Gaucho offense has arrived, scoring 11 goals in Big West games thus far. Becerra has been nothing short of phenomenal, knocking in two goals in each conference matchup for a total of six in Big West play.
“Becerra matches up well against their back line and has been playing well, so we’ll obviously be looking for him,” said Reynish. “Our defense has been playing well and we’ll definitely be ready for this
Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday at Harder Stadium.