After four consecutive wins, the UCSB men’s soccer team is riding high. The Gauchos hope to keep it that way Saturday.
Santa Barbara will return home to face off against #25 UC Irvine Saturday night as the Big West season nears its end. Currently the Gauchos lead the league, and a victory over the Anteaters would put them well on the way to the regular season title and home-field advantage in the Big West Tournament.
Irvine, meanwhile, is trying just to make it into the tournament. The Anteaters have had a rough go in Big West play, managing only a 2-1-4 record. The four ties haven’t helped their cause. UCI is currently in a battle with 2-2-3 Cal State Northridge for the fourth and final spot in the tourney, and needs points desperately. They can expect a hard time getting them at Harder Stadium.
“We’ve always been really successful against Irvine at home,” Gaucho junior forward David Walker said.
In truth, UCSB has been really successful at home, period. The Gauchos have not lost more than twice at home since 2001, and this year UCSB already has reached that mark — once to Wake Forest and once to UC Davis. Santa Barbara is on a hot streak since the loss to the Aggies, winning four consecutive matches and jumping back to the top of the conference.
Now the Gauchos must close against the top teams in the league, with UC Irvine, Cal Poly and UC Davis consecutively.
“These next few games are crucial,” Walker said. “It’s going to come down to us busting our tails and winning balls defensively.”
UC Irvine (9-1-6, 2-1-4 Big West) is led by senior midfielder Matt Murphy, sophomore forward Spencer Thompson, and junior forward Irving Garcia. The three have combined for 49 points with 16 goals and 17 assists. That trio has served the Anteaters well, as UCI only has one loss on the season. Unfortunately for the ‘Eater faithful, that loss was to UCSB.
In fact, the Gauchos (10-4-2, 5-1-1 Big West) came from behind to beat Irvine the last time these teams met, with the game-winner coming while a man down. This time, the Gauchos are hoping it will be easier.
“This whole season we’ve taken a game at a time,” senior co-captain Alfonso Motagalvan said. The defenseman continued: “This game is very important. Irvine is an underrated team and it’s very important because if we beat a team like Irvine we move up in the rankings.
The game is set to begin at 7 p.m. on Saturday.