After an unexpected postponement of Wednesday’s match with Cal State Northridge, the #10 UCSB men’s soccer team comes off six days of rest today to take on UC Davis at Harder Stadium at 7 p.m. The contest marks the second time the Gauchos have played the Aggies in as many weeks, with the last result being a dominating 4-0 shutout for Santa Barbara in Davis.
UCSB (6-2-2 overall, 3-0-0 in the Big West) is coming off a huge week in Big West play, winning two home games over conference foes, while not surrendering a single goal. The action started Wednesday in a nationally televised match against UC Irvine and the Gauchos rose to the challenge with a 4-0 win. Saturday, Santa Barbara squared off against Cal State Fullerton, and managed to edge out the Titans 1-0 with a late goal.
Leading the Gauchos through the last few weeks has been junior midfielder Chris Pontius. The Yorba Linda native has notched six goals in his last four matches, scoring the game-winning goal in the last three and the game-tying goal in the other. Pontius now has eight goals on the season and is looking to add to that total tonight. Despite having teammates in junior midfielder Eric Avila and senior defender Andy Iro named to the preseason Hermann Trophy Watch List – collegiate soccer’s most valuable player award – Pontius is picking up some accolades of his own. This past week he was named the College Soccer News Player of the Week, an honor no other Gaucho has received this season.
Along with Pontius, freshman goalkeeper Bryant Rueckner has been playing tremendously, tallying three straight shutouts in Big West play, something former keeper Kyle Reynish was never able to accomplish. Rueckner has faced some tough opponents in his first 10 college games, but appears to be finding his own between the posts.
One main reason for this is the help of a very good UCSB defense. Led by three-time All-American Iro, the Gaucho defense has been shutting down opponents this season. The Santa Barbara backline has not allowed more than 15 shots in a game since the start of September and is not allowing opponents any solid opportunities on goal. Despite Iro’s ominous presence, the success of the defense is a little bit surprising. The Gauchos have been playing without injured senior defender Greg Curry since early in the season, though it is impossible to tell from the game results. Freshman defender Michael Boxall has done a wonderful job stepping in on the defense in his first year, and the rest of the fullbacks are playing tremendously as well.
On the other end of the pitch, the Gauchos will face what should be a difficult test in the Aggies. Despite Santa Barbara’s massacre at Davis two weeks ago, the Aggies (6-2-1, 1-1-0 Big West) rank eighth in the Far West Region. Also of note, Davis has just recorded its first Big West win in any sport, beating UC Riverside last Wednesday. The conference newcomers are looking to off the perennial powerhouse Gauchos, but will require an excellent effort from all their players, particularly leading scorer Sule Anibaba. Anibaba comes into this game second in the Big West with six goals scored, and will be trying to outshine Pontius this evening.