Fortunately for the #17 UCSB men’s soccer team, the squad is in the midst of its best run of the year. The downside is that the team must face #1 Southern Methodist University next.
Santa Barbara (13-7 overall) rides a two-matchwinning streak into this evening’s NCAA Tournament second-round contest in Dallas and has won six of its last seven. The Gauchos have netted six goals in the last two matches, their most prolific two-game output all season long.
“We’ve always known we have potential to score goals, we just have not had one or two players put up some numbers,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “I think every game that goes by, we’re going to get better at scoring goals.”
UCSB will be hard pressed to find the back of the net against a Mustang (17-1-4) defense that has allowed just 11 goals in 22 contests. Senior keeper Matt Wideman owns the seventh best goals against average in the land and senior defender Jay Needham was named a finalist for the Hermann Trophy for the game’s best player.
Coupled with the stifling defense is SMU’s dynamic offense, ranking second in the nation with a 2.55 goals per game average. Sophomore midfielder Bruno Guarda joins Needham as a Hermann Trophy finalist and senior midfielder Chase Wileman leads the Mustangs with 28 points.
“The numbers don’t lie,” Vom Steeg said. “They were #1 in the country for several weeks and none of that is a fluke. They are coming back from playing in the Final Four last year and they have a lot of players returning.”
The Gaucho defense appears up to the task as it looks to prove that the Gauchos possess one of the country’s premier back lines as well. Senior Co-Big West Goalkeeper of the Year Kyle Reynish and junior Big West Defender of the Year Andy Iro anchor a group that has posted 11 shutouts. The defense allowed San Diego State just one shot in the second half the last time out during the first round of the NCAA playoffs.
UCSB has impressed in its last two contests, dismantling Big West doormat UC Riverside 4-0 and earning its first come-from-behind win of the season in a 2-1 victory over SDSU. Both goals came in the second half against senior All-American goalkeeper Tally Hall.
“If there is one confidence booster you get it’s that if you go down 1-0, there is some life that we didn’t have in the past,” Vom Steeg said. “In other games [where] we’ve fallen behind, I don’t think we responded. In the SDSU game, right after we scored the goal, we really responded.”
The squad has fallen to four ranked opponents on the year and has struggled on the road, most recently falling to UC Irvine 2-0 to open November. Overall, UCSB has posted a 2-5 record away from Harder Stadium and has been shut out in every loss.
“We’ll have opportunities to score on them and I think it’ll take two goals to win this game,” Vom Steeg said.
Santa Barbara looks to advance into the third round after last season’s second round exit, but will have to do so against one of the most complete clubs in the nation.
“We’re a team that – on its best night – can beat anybody and we’ll have to be our best to win that game,” Vom Steeg said. “We’re not dealing with a team that is way ahead of us.”