For the most part, UCSB and UCLA have a very lopsided history. The Bruins have dominated the Gauchos year in and year out and boast a 30-2 series record. Based on that statistic alone, one might think Santa Barbara men’s soccer could be in for a rough time when they head down to Westwood on Wednesday at 7:00 p.m.
But then, as the adage goes, “What have you done for me lately?”
The last time these two teams met was Dec. 13, 2006 in St. Louis, MO, in the College Cup final. Despite having lost to the Bruins, 3-1 earlier in the year, the unseeded Gauchos defeated heavily favored UCLA 2-1 when it mattered the most.
So which team has the upper hand in this match?
UCSB has had a topsy-turvy season up to this point, beating ranked opponents and losing to unranked ones on their way to a 5-3-0 record. UCLA actually looks very similar at this stage in the season, with a disappointing 2-3-3 record but a lot of talent to go around. Both of these schools are consistent national contenders, but they could each use some momentum going into their respective conference seasons and the result is likely to be a battle.
“We need to take the approach from the Indiana win to UCLA,” senior forward Nick Perera said.
Santa Barbara is coming off an important win against 10th-ranked Indiana, in which UCSB took a 2-0 lead before losing junior forward David Walker to a red card in the 73rd minute. Indiana would take advantage of the shorthanded Gauchos for one late goal, but Santa Barbara held on for a much-needed 2-1 victory.
“It was an all-around team effort with a huge defensive emphasis,” Perera said. “We went into there with the mindset that we were going to win at all costs.”
Going into the UCLA game, the Gauchos have a lot of issues to address. First and foremost, the defense has been inconsistent all season long and will need to find more of a rhythm as the year progresses. Replete with youth and constant personnel changes, this Gaucho back line has not yet coalesced into a solid defensive unit, and has given up over two goals a game.
The offense might be depleted as well going into the match with the Bruins, due to Walker’s one-game red card suspension and Perera’s nagging knee injury. Without those experienced scorers, it is possible that UCSB may have trouble scoring goals against Los Angeles. Senior forward Chris Pontius, who already has been anchoring the attack this season with seven of Santa Barbara’s 17 goals this season (including four in the last three games), will have even more pressure on him to put the Gauchos on the board. But UCLA is likely to throw double and triple teams at him all game, which could open the door for UCSB’s talented young players to fill the void.
In goal, the Gauchos will be starting redshirt freshman Kristopher Minton, who started his second game of the season on Sunday and earned Big West Player of the Week accolades for his performance. He had four saves and only one goal allowed in UCSB’s win over the Hoosiers and made vital stops at several key junctures.
The game marks Santa Barbara’s fourth in a row against ranked opponents, third in a row against past College Cup opponents (in the last four years), and is UCSB’s last nonconference game this season. The Gauchos, who are 2-1 so far in that treacherous stretch, look to firmly establish their place as one of the top teams in the country this year with a victory. Kickoff is set for 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday at UCLA’s Drake Stadium.