The UCSB men’s soccer team travels to Northridge today for a pivotal match in the Big West title race. Last year, Northridge was the first team to record a win against UCSB.

Santa Barbara (10-3-3 overall, 5-0-2 in the Big West) could not defeat the Matadors (11-2-3 overall, 6-0-1 Big West) when they battled to a 2-2 tie at Harder Stadium Oct. 8, so the Gauchos will test their Big West Conference rivals in Northridge at 2 p.m.

“I think that [the Matadors] are feeling pretty good about themselves,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “They are at home and they play well at home. They’ve beaten us there before and are probably feeling pretty confident. They have a lot of advantages right now that have nothing to do with soccer.”

Northridge sits on top of the Big West standings with two more points than the Gauchos. A win for Santa Barbara would earn it three points and move it past Northridge in the standings.

“The pressure is a lot more on them than it is on us. It’s a lot harder to defend first place than it is to try and take it. Add to that that they are doing it at home and that’s a lot of pressure,” Vom Steeg said. “I think we go into the game with, I don’t want to say a carefree attitude, but we can just focus on the game and go in with the mindset that we need to beat Northridge.”

Santa Barbara wants two things right now: The first is to beat the Matadors and win the Big West, and the second is to make it into the playoffs. A victory today would help with the first and practically guarantee the second. Even if they tie or lose today, the Gauchos have a great shot at making the playoffs based on their performance and difficult schedule this season.

“It’s a must-win game if we want to win the conference,” Vom Steeg said. “But it’s not a must-win game if we want to make the playoffs.”

Santa Barbara is the healthiest it has been all season and knows what to expect from the Matadors. The biggest variable in today’s game will be whether junior forward Willie Simms plays for Northridge. He hasn’t played since the 2-2 tie that he left due to an injury. Despite not playing for three weeks, he remains Northridge’s top scorer. With the conference title on the line, he is likely to make an appearance.

“Honestly, they’re not all that good of a team. I don’t know why we’ve had so much trouble beating them at their place,” sophomore defender Andy Iro said. “We tied them at home but I feel like that was one of our worst games of the year.”

The Big West Conference title is on the line and today’s game at Matador Field should provide plenty of drama for both sides.