Is Harder Stadium one of the nation’s most daunting collegiate venues to play? Tomorrow night at 8 p.m., soccer buffs from around the country will find out.
In a game with increasingly large playoff implications for #28 Santa Barbara (6-4-0 overall, 2-1 Big West), #7 UCLA (6-3-2 overall) will step onto the pitch to face a recharged Gaucho squad in front of a national television audience.
“UCSB has a huge reputation right now because of our crowd. It’s what coaches talk about,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “There’s probably only 10 places in the country right now where you’re going to have that kind of atmosphere that we had here the other night [in the Michigan game]. It makes your players kind of grow up a little bit when you’re playing in front of a bunch of people in a difficult environment.”
But taking down a college soccer giant like UCLA will not be a walk in the park for the Gauchos.
“They literally have the #1 recruiting class in the country,” Vom Steeg said. “Player for player, this is the most talented team we’ll play all year, but whether or not this is the best team, we’ll tell you after Thursday.”
The Bruins have played seven ranked teams thus far this season in which they posted a 3-3-1 record and, furthermore, they’ve made a season out of spoiling other’s unbeaten streaks. First came #7 Santa Clara and just two days later, down went #9 San Francisco.
Just this past weekend, the Bruins continued their reign of terror in the Northwest as they downed unbeaten #4 Washington and a dangerous Oregon State.
“A lot of guys are really quick on the dribble out of the midfield,” sophomore forward Nick Perera said. “We have to be careful on defense because up top they’re really fast on counter attacks.”
But it’s not time to throw in the towel just yet. The Bruins are not unbeatable and have an Achilles’ heel.
“On the other side, I think defensively this is probably – I don’ t want to say weaker teams because every player is good – but when you compare their defense in the past [it doesn’t quite match up],” Vom Steeg said. “And their two players on the outside are kind of younger players. When you get younger players going forward, they’re just going to go do their thing whether they’re 18 or 22, but if you put a young player in the back, in front of a bunch of people, maybe on TV when it’s a different type of energy, you can get some mistakes out of them.”
UCLA’s players to watch are sophomore midfielder Jason Leopoldo and Sal Zizzo, along with freshman phenomenon Kyle Nakazawa, who also causes quite a stir through the middle of the field.
“I think we match up with everyone else on the field very nicely,” Vom Steeg said. “But can we contain those three guys defensively, that will definitely be a question mark.”
All three Gauchos ejected in the Northridge game will be back in action tomorrow tonight, not the least of which is junior defender Greg Curry. Curry will likely step into the suspended Brennan Tennelle’s spot to help fill that void.
“Brennan is a big hit. When we’ve had Brennan on the field, we’re a much better team,” Vom Steeg said. “We didn’t have him for Northridge or for Davis and there was a great drop off, but we’ve gone into every game having to make some adjustments.”