“The game against Indiana is just about the hardest game you’re going to get in college soccer.”

And Tim Vom Steeg would know. The two-time National Soccer Coaches Association of America coach of the year has seen his fair share of tough games.

“The hardest would be going up against Wake Forest. Playing at Indiana might be second, and playing at UCLA could be third,” he said.

Coincidentally enough, men’s soccer Head Coach Vom Steeg was describing his team’s grueling three-game stretch, which started off last Sunday with a 6-2 beat-down at the hands of Wake Forest.

The Gauchos face off against the Indiana University at Bill Armstrong Stadium in Bloomington tomorrow in a test that could rival last Sunday’s debacle in terms of difficulty. The Hoosiers come into the game ranked 10th in the country, boasting a 4-1-2 record. UCSB, on the other hand, has lost three of its last four games and needs to turn things around as conference play resumes.

“Our reaction to what happened is important… more than what happened itself,” senior forward Nick Perera said.

Santa Barbara (4-3-0), still ranked as high as 16th in the polls, needs to get into gear quickly in the next couple games. With road matches at national powerhouses Indiana and UCLA before conference play, the Gauchos could easily find themselves at 4-5 when they square off against UC Irvine for the season opener. However, confidence remains high on the squad.

“I think our team is going to play well,” Vom Steeg said. “We’re going to bounce back. We’ll be fine.”

However, this youth-filled and injury-plagued team is likely to see even more changes before the Big West starts, including a move of co-captain and veteran midfielder Alfonso Motagalvan to the back line. Changes like this are intended to alleviate the Gauchos’ weaknesses on defense.

“We need to give up less goals,” senior striker and Hermann Trophy Candidate Chris Pontius said. “It’s a team thing. The defense isn’t just the back line.”

It is true the Gauchos have been struggling to keep opponents off the scoreboard. In its last four games, UCSB has allowed 14 goals and only has one shutout all season. These struggles have been compounded by the losses of veteran defenders CJ Cintas and Kyle Kaveny to injury before the season began, and Vom Steeg has tried everything in his repertoire to shore up the back.

“We started Michael Tetteh … we’ve been playing [junior forward Martin Hedevag] in the back the last couple games,” the coach explained. “After the Alfonso move, I’m kind of out of moves.”

With a team featuring 17 freshmen in a stronger-than-ever Big West Conference, the inexperienced Gauchos are going to have to grow up quickly. The Indiana game is a rematch of the 2004 national championship, in which the Hoosiers defeated the Gauchos on penalty kicks. However, neither of these teams features the same players as they did then, and the bad blood between these squads is limited – if even existent. However, a win on Indiana would mean the world to a team struggling to find itself at this early stage of the season.

Even though UCSB is skidding and Indiana is an exceptionally tough squad to beat, this is still a battle between two top-tier teams, and the Gauchos fully expect to contend.

“We’re going there with the expectation to beat Indiana,” Vom Steeg said.

He added, “But we’re the team more likely to make a mistake. A lot of times, a mistake can cost you a game.”

As it is, the mistake-prone Gauchos cannot afford to give up many more games. Big West play is looming just around the corner.