With the pressure of residing in first place off its back, the #10 UCSB men’s soccer team looks to rebound from its first Big West loss Saturday against UC Riverside.
The Gauchos (6-3-3 overall, 3-1-1 in the Big West) will attempt to rebound from Thursday’s 2-1 loss on the road at Cal Poly, in which the Mustangs (9-1-1, 4-0-1 Big West) took sole possession of first place in the conference standings. The Highlanders (4-3-5, 1-1-3 Big West) earned their first victory in program history over Santa Barbara in Riverside last year and are not the Big West doormats they have been during past years. The loss to UCR last season pushed UCSB to 7-6 and jump-started the squad’s 11-1 finish to the year.
“I feel like we’re a little bit in the same place [as last year],” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “We’ve been so up and down. Last year we gave up a goal a minute into the game and played horrible. I don’t think we’re playing bad, but at the same time it’s a situation where we need a win.”
Riverside had surprised the rest of the league with its solid play in the early going and brings a four-game unbeaten streak into the match. The Highlanders are the only squad to blemish Cal Poly’s conference record, battling the Mustangs to a 2-2 tie in early October.
The UCR offense ranks near the bottom of the Big West having netted 16 goals through 12 games. The story is much the same on the other side of the pitch, as the Highlanders have let in 16 goals, good for fifth in the conference. The contest shows promise of being a physical affair, pitting the only two teams averaging more than two yellow cards a game against each other.
“As long as a team still feels like they can win four or five games and make the playoffs, you are going to get a good game from them,” Vom Steeg said. “Their approach to the game will be that ‘Cal Poly beat us, so why can’t we?'”
Returning to the Gaucho defensive ranks after a one-match absence is senior All-American defender Andy Iro. The Mustangs were able to exploit Iro’s absence in Thursday’s win, frequently playing the ball deep into UCSB territory. The backline still will not be at full-strength due to freshman defender Michael Boxall’s two yellow cards against Cal Poly.
UCSB trailed in the conference late last season and was able to secure the crown in the final week. This time around they know they need to keep pace with the Mustangs to keep the pressure on.
“Now everyone’s attention in league turns a little toward Cal Poly in first place,” Vom Steeg said. “They are going to experience what it means to be in first place going on the road. We’re good when we have our best eleven on the field, and the red card to Boxall hurts us. It’s very important to go down and win a league game.”