Riding a season high three-game winning streak, the #12 UCSB men’s soccer team hopes to inch closer to its second straight Big West title when they host second place #15 Cal Poly Saturday at 7 p.m. at Harder Stadium.
The Gauchos (9-3-3 overall, 6-1-1 in the Big West) hope to get their retribution on the only squad to hand them a loss in conference play. The Mustangs (9-1-4 overall, 4-0-4 Big West) defeated Santa Barbara 2-1 on Oct. 17th in front of a Big West record crowd of 7,143, UCSB’s only defeat in its last ten matches. In the first meeting, Cal Poly took advantage of the absence of All-American senior defender Andy Iro, who missed the contest with a red card, scoring twice by exploiting the area on the field usually dominated by the Englishman.
Santa Barbara will have to find a way to contain freshman forward David Zamora and junior striker Anthony Grillo, after each netted a goal the first time these squads met. Each player has been named the College Soccer News National Team of the Week once this year and has helped Cal Poly enter the national rankings for the first time since 1995. Zamora currently ranks fifth in the league with 13 points on five goals and three assists.
Despite coming into the contest unbeaten in conference play, the Mustangs find themselves looking up at UCSB in the standings. Cal Poly has tied its last three opponents and has failed to pick up much needed wins against the poorer teams in the conference and earn an extra two points. The Mustangs have been hard to beat all year and bring an 11-game winning streak into the match, with their last loss coming Sept. 14th at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.
Much as last season, the Gauchos are playing their best soccer at the most opportune time. Sophomore midfielder Ciaran O’Brien has overtaken teammate junior midfielder Chris Pontius for the lead in conference points with 19 to Pontius’ 18. Santa Barbara has scored less than two goals only twice in Big West competition and has reached the three-goal plateau on four occasions. Back in the lineup for UCSB will be junior midfielder Eric Avila, who missed Wednesday’s 3-1 victory over UC Irvine (6-5-4 overall, 1-4-2 Big West) due to a red card.
A victory would put UCSB two games ahead of the Mustangs with three remaining and put all the pressure on Cal Poly. The Gauchos have been looking forward to this game since the Mustangs’ earlier victory and hope to prove that they are still the conference’s elite team.