With just four regular season games remaining, UCSB is looking to pick up every win it can get. However, there are no easy games remaining on Santa Barbara’s schedule.
Next up for UCSB is consistent Big West contender Cal State Northridge. The Matadors earned a tie in these teams’ first match of the season – a 2-2 draw at Harder Stadium. The Gauchos hope to fare better this time.
“Northridge is a tough place to play,” senior forward Chris Pontius said. “It doesn’t favor us going down there, especially in the afternoon, but we just have to focus on the little things.”
The UCSB co-captain leads the team in scoring by a wide margin, with 12 goals on the season. He is accompanied up top by two fellow veterans: senior Nick Perera and junior David Walker.
Perera has recently found his stride this season, scoring three times in the last three games and accompanying Pontius nicely on offense. Walker, meanwhile, had the game-winning assist to Pontius against Cal Poly in the 101st minute just two games ago.
It is the defense that continues to worry UCSB, though. The youthful Gaucho back line has only two shutouts on the season and will be without sophomore center back Michael Boxall due to yellow card accumulation Wednesday. Shutting down the Northridge front will be the key to success for a team that almost never has trouble putting points on the board.
“We’ve realized that defense is going to struggle,” Perera said. “It’s going to take a while to fix some problems.
“A lot of times if you know you’re going to be giving up a goal you have to put two or three in the net to get the win.”
The Matadors are led by junior midfielder Sunghyun Kim, who currently boasts a balanced line of four goals and four assists. Sophomore forward Camilo Rojas has the highest goal total on the team with five.
In goal, senior Kevin Guppy has started every game and can claim six shutouts for his efforts. He made five saves in these teams last match, but also relinquished two Santa Barbara scores that resulted in the 2-2 draw.
Northridge is likely to be a tough foe, but it does not get any easier after that for UCSB. The Gauchos final stretch consists of four opponents placed in the top 43 of the Ratings Percentage Index. Two of those games are on the road, and one is against a foe that has already bested UCSB once this season: UC Davis.
“We’re playing the hardest teams at the end of the season and that will prepare us for the Big West Tournament,” Perera said. “And for the playoffs.”
But Santa Barbara needs only to win three of the four to guarantee the Big West season title, and subsequently clinch home-field advantage in the Big West tournament.