Riding high after its biggest win of the year, the UCSB men’s soccer team looks to continue its winning ways against lowly UC Riverside this afternoon.

The Gauchos (7-5 overall, 3-1 in the Big West) pulled into a first place tie with #21 UC Irvine after UCSB’s 2-0 win last weekend at Harder Stadium, but fell out of the national rankings after posting a 1-1 record last week. Santa Barbara hopes the offense can build off the momentum from its two-goal showing against Irvine, as UCSB had not reached that plateau in its previous four matches.

Coming to life in the Gaucho offense is sophomore forward Nick Perera, who tallied both goals for the squad against Irvine and was named the Big West Player of the Week for the first time in his career. At 6’3″, Perera provides a big target up front for the Gauchos and has had plenty of quality opportunities to break through this season.

“Nick has been doing that in practice, but has not been able to translate it to games,” UCSB Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “He’s learning from his opportunities and getting more comfortable and he leads the team in shots against UCLA.”

Having posted a 1-1 record against fellow conference elites UC Irvine and Cal State Northridge so far, UCSB will begin a four-game stretch against the weaker Big West members. These next few games should give the Gauchos a chance to work out their offensive kinks and strengthen their grip on the conference lead. CSUN and Irvine face off in their first meeting of the year tonight in Irvine.

“We always split with CSUN and have done well with Irvine, so I think it comes down to how you do against teams like Cal Poly and Fullerton,” Vom Steeg said. “Irvine and Northridge have two games with each other and we still have Riverside twice. We put ourselves in a good position where if we win the next five games, we’ll have at least a share of the conference title.”

The Highlanders (3-8-1 overall, 0-3-1 Big West) sit at the bottom of the pack in the Big West, but have showed signs of promise this season, battling defending champion CSUN to a 1-1 tie on the road, while the Gauchos fell 5-0 in Northridge. The squad is currently riding a four-game losing streak and is winless in their last seven matches. Riverside has not defeated UCSB since 1974.

“They took a hit with graduation and are back to having a really young team,” Vom Steeg said. “They played very well against CSUN, but then gave up two goals in the first 15 minutes to UC Irvine.”

Every game counts in the tight Big West race and Santa Barbara knows it cannot overlook weaker opponents such as the Highlanders. The Gauchos have dropped their last two road matches and are 2-3 away from Harder Stadium on the year.

“I’m in a position where I can start the same lineup in back-to-back games, which I haven’t been able to do,” Vom Steeg said. “We have a very good four-game stretch and we need to go 4-0 in the next four games.”