At first glance, tonight’s nonconference matchup with UC Davis only appears to have intrinsic value for the Gauchos; the greatest payoff they can hope to achieve is the satisfaction of revenge and the mental benefits of building momentum late in the season.
But as the boys in blue prepare to take the field tonight at 7 p.m. in Harder Stadium, Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg feels there may be more at stake than just vengeance.
“Anyone with 10 wins on the West Coast has a chance for the postseason,” Vom Steeg said. “With our nonconference schedule being what it is [in terms of playing several of the nation’s best], and what it looks like on the West Coast and throughout the country, anybody’s got a very good chance with 10 wins.”
That is not to say that such aforementioned intrinsic benefits will not be on the minds of the Gauchos (8-6-0 overall, 4-2-0 in the Big West) at kickoff tonight.
“We need to build some sort of momentum; we’ve just been unable to put together three, four wins in a row,” Vom Steeg said. “I think the other huge motivating factor is there was a lot of celebrating that happened up at Davis following that game. I think that’s still really fresh in the guys’ minds.”
Davis (7-5-2 overall) remains in Division I purgatory for one more year as they continue the admittance process into the Big West Conference, but their condition of being not quite there did not stop them from upsetting the Gauchos earlier this season.
In frustrating fashion, the Aggies tacked on an early goal in the 19th minute of the game on Sept. 23, then sat back to weather a storm of shots by Santa Barbara in the second half. The second half saw an 8-2 shot advantage for UCSB, but as fate would have it, they would not strike the net before the final whistle.
“Cal Poly and Davis play the exact same system, so we feel we kind of got a dry rehearsal against Cal Poly in terms of what Davis does,” Vom Steeg said. “They approach the game from a very counter-attacking/defensive mindset – and I thought we came out and attacked it very well [against Cal Poly]. We got the two early goals [which forced] Cal Poly to change their tactics a little bit and come out after us.”
Aggie goalkeeper Charles Warne did his part to irritate the Gauchos with four saves on the night while Santa Barbara’s offensive attack was lead by Nick “Belgium” Perera who broke free long enough to fire off four shots on the night.
But giving up the early goal became the Gauchos’ Achilles’ heel that would dictate the pace for the rest of the game, and the extremely defensive stance taken by Davis.
“The key is that you don’t fall behind,” Vom Steeg said. “I feel that we’re capable of coming back from one or two down, but it just hasn’t happened yet.”
In the rematch against Davis, Santa Barbara will have to fill a hole in their lineup again this season thanks to red-card ejections. The big man in the back, straight out of England, junior defender Andy Iro, will serve his suspension tonight after a late ejection in the Cal Poly match this past Saturday.
“Obviously we have to make an adjustment for [Iro] being gone, but other than that we’re in pretty decent shape,” Vom Steeg said. “Every game that Tyler [Rosenlund] plays, he’s going to get fitter and better. We started to see the [Rosenlund] of old when he gave the two balls for the two goals against Cal Poly.”
Filling the void in the back will be a game-day decision dependant on the probable return from injury of sophomore midfielder Chris Pontius, which would allow senior defender Jeff Murphy to slide into the central position. But, in all likelihood, the defensive responsibilities will be a shared load tonight.