Without both co-captains and one of the most intimidating defensive forces in the nation, the #10 UCSB men’s soccer team will battle Central Coast rival Cal Poly tonight in a matchup of the Big West’s two first-place teams.
The Gauchos (6-2-3 overall, 3-0-1 in the Big West) will suit up against the Mustangs (8-1-1, 3-0-1 Big West) without senior All-American defender Andy Iro, who earned a red card in the 27th minute in a melee against UC Davis (6-3-2, 1-2-1 Big West) Friday night. Santa Barbara’s backline will have a quite different look, as Iro will join injured co-captain senior defender Greg Curry on the sidelines. Junior defender Kyle Kaveny and freshman defender Michael Boxall have been plugged into the backline seamlessly, helping the Gauchos amass a more than 330-minute-long scoreless streak that ended last match.
“We’ll miss [Iro’s] presence, but he needs some rest because of his knee,” Assistant Coach Neil Jones said. “We have players who can step up and get the job done.”
While UCSB has become accustomed to sitting atop the conference standings, the Big West perch is unfamiliar territory for Cal Poly. Second-year coach Paul Holocher has taken last year’s fourth-place squad – which was a contender in the conference race until the final week – and already matched last year’s league-win total at three. The Mustangs are riding a seven-game unbeaten streak, posting five shutouts during the stretch.
Cal Poly’s offense comes in average two goals a game, but has lost its leading goal-scorer in sophomore forward Daniel Cumming for the season. Filling in the void has been freshman striker David Zamora, who was named to College Soccer News’ National Team of the Week for his recent heroics. Zamora netted two goals in less than a minute against UC Irvine (6-3-3, 1-2-1 Big West) last week to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 victory, before following his performance with the game-winning goal against UC Davis.
“Last year [Holocher] didn’t really have a chance to implement his style,” Jones said. “Now that he has his own players who understand his style, I knew they would be better than last year. I’m not sure if they are as good as their record suggests because of some of the opponents they’ve played, but they are a solid team.”
After opening conference play with three straight shutouts, the Aggies finally broke through against Santa Barbara freshman goalkeeper Bryant Rueckner in the squad’s last contest. Santa Barbara has outscored Big West foes 11-2 through the first four games and has not lost to any opponent in a month, bringing a six-game unbeaten streak into tonight’s contest.
Despite the promising start to the year, the Mustangs do not have history on their side. The Gauchos notched a pair of 2-0 wins against Cal Poly last year and have won the last 12 games in the series, allowing only six goals during the streak.
“There are places that are hard to play in the Big West like Fullerton and Northridge, but we’ve had success [at Cal Poly],” Jones said. “It would be great to get a buffer between us and them and get out with three points.”
Kickoff for tonight’s match is at 7 from Cal Poly’s Alex G. Spanos Stadium and can be heard on KCSB 91.9 FM or www.kcsb.org.