After acing its first two Big West tests, the #12 UCSB men’s soccer team will look to keep its momentum going when Cal State Fullerton (4-4-1 overall, 0-1-1 in the Big West) visits Harder Stadium Saturday.
The Gauchos (5-2-2, 2-0-0 Big West) opened conference play with 4-0 wins over UC Davis (6-2-1, 1-1-0 Big West) and #25 UC Irvine (5-2-2, 0-1-0 Big West) and have played their best soccer of late. The Titans, on the other hand, have stumbled recently after starting the year off with three straight wins, but notched an impressive 1-1 tie with perennial conference power Cal State Northridge (4-2-2, 0-0-1 Big West) Wednesday night.
Offensive struggles have highlighted the Titan season so far, as the squad has mustered only nine goals through nine games. Things will not get easier for Fullerton because the Santa Barbara defense has yet to allow a goal in conference play, while freshman goalkeeper Bryant Rueckner has needed to make only two saves through the first two games. The Gaucho defense will need to key in on the twin sophomore set of midfielder Michael and forward Gabriel Farfan. The brothers have yet to find much offensive success this season, but they displayed tremendous potential a year ago.
“We’ve always had wars with Fullerton. They have two very good players in the Farfan twins, who we think are as good as any in the Big West,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said.
Along with their less than stellar offense, the Titans bring a defense that has allowed a league-high 15 goals. After opening the season with three straight shutouts, Fullerton’s backline has yet to post another clean sheet, but has allowed only one goal each of the past two games.
The Harder Stadium crowd continues to fuel UCSB to victory, as the Gauchos have a 3-1-1 mark on their home pitch this season, outscoring the opposition 12-3. Last season Santa Barbara battled the Titans for a tough 2-1 double overtime victory on the road and escaped with a 1-0 win at home.
“Every home game is critical for us because every league game is so tough,” Vom Steeg said. “We have to fight on the road every time out, so there is pressure to come out and do the same things we’ve been doing for the past few games at home.”
Santa Barbara has proven to be far superior to its Big West counterparts in the early going of the conference slate, but last season showed that there are no breaks on the Big West schedule. The Gauchos allowed UC Davis and UC Riverside to hand them surprising losses a year ago and aim to avoid repeating the same mistake yet again.
“I think we have areas of our game where we need to improve on,” Vom Steeg said. “When you start to beat people sometimes you overlook your continuing problems. It’s a matter of continuing to address problems. If you go into a game overconfident in our conference, you’re going to get beat.”
Saturday’s game is set to begin at 7 p.m. at Harder Stadium.