Things have gone from bad to worse for the #23 UCSB men’s soccer team. After falling to #14 Northridge last week, a loss that eliminated the Gauchos (10-4-3 overall, 5-1-2 in the Big West) from Big West title contention, the squad now finds itself in third place behind both Northridge and Irvine.
“All that matters is if we win the Big West Championship,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “Second, third, fourth, it doesn’t matter because they aren’t first. Now we will have to depend on our non-conference schedule and our RPI to get into the playoffs.”
UCSB has two more games left, traveling to Riverside today before returning home for the regular season finale Saturday against Irvine. Should the Gauchos win their remaining games, they would snatch second place in the conference.
“We definitely had higher expectations of our play,” senior midfielder Brian Byrne said. “But if we have a good week, we can get back to second and then look ahead to the postseason.”
Santa Barbara has struggled on the road this season. Three of the team’s four losses have come away from Harder Stadium and by just one goal.
“I am more worried about Wednesday’s game than Saturday’s,” Vom Steeg said. “We have had trouble on the road because we give up early goals and have to come from behind 1-0 or even 2-1. I know the guys will be ready on Saturday for Senior Night.”
Last year, Northridge was ranked #23 at the end of the regular season and was still chosen for postseason play. The Gauchos remain optimistic about their chances to qualify for the postseason.
“There is some concern, but it gives us that much more motivation,” junior defender Jeff Murphy said. “If we can get two dominating wins and take care of business, we should be OK.”
Riverside can barely be considered competition for the Gauchos after they downed the Highlanders 4-0 back in September and 3-0 twice last year. Riverside has never defeated the Gauchos. Senior forward Ivan Becerra tallied his first two goals of the season in the match against the Highlanders.
“There’s not a lot on the line for them and they will play hard as long as we keep them in the game,” Vom Steeg said. “Hopefully, we can get on the board first so we don’t have to play from behind.”
The Gauchos will be without senior defender Pat Scott for the rest of the season. Scott, a member of last year’s Big West All-Conference Team, helped anchor a defense that has posted seven shutouts on the season and has given up just 15 goals in 17 games.
To avoid changes in the back line this late in the season, Vom Steeg said he would replace Scott with Murphy. Murphy – who started in place of Scott in the three games he missed earlier this season due to injury – has played in 15 of the Gauchos 17 games this year.
“I’ve played in the back all year long, so it’s not that big of a deal,” Murphy said. “It’s just my turn to be the one to step up.”
The Gaucho’s quest for a fourth Big West Championship in five years may have died, but postseason play is still in reach. Kickoff for today’s game is scheduled for 3 p.m. in Riverside, Calif.