Going into the final day of the season, there are four teams still in contention for the Big West regular season title. UCSB is the only one that controls its destiny.
The Gauchos travel to UC Davis Saturday, knowing that a win will result in home-field advantage in the Big West tournament — a very important asset. However, winning will likely not come easy. Davis beat UCSB 2-0 at Harder Stadium the last time these two teams met.
“First in the league, home field in advantage in the Big West tournament is very very important,” sophomore forward Bongomin Otii said.
To get past the Aggies, UCSB will need to do better than in the last match. Santa Barbara was shut out for the first time in 31 games, and could not capitalize on a number of opportunities. Saturday, UCSB hopes to get on the board first to take some pressure off of its defense.
“Our offensive strategy is to keep them on their heels,” Otii said. “We’re going to attack them very directly”
The Gaucho defense has been much beleaguered this season, but has improved as of late. UCSB is coming off a 0-0 tie against Cal Poly — the second time the Gauchos have shut out the Mustangs on the season. However, the Aggie attackers are even better than Poly’s crew.
UC Davis is led by senior sensation Quincy Amarikwa, who has a Big West-leading 15 goals on the season. The forward is joined by senior midfielder Dylan Curtis, who leads the team with 10 assists. Curtis even has five goals to boot.
Amarikwa tore up the Santa Barbara back line in the last meeting, tallying both of the game’s goals. The second was a full-fledged bicycle kick — effectively the holy grail of the soccer world.
UCSB will need production from its forwards, who were shut out a second time this season against Poly. Senior forward Chris Pontius has spearheaded the Gaucho attack, with 13 goals on the season thus far. Combined with fellow senior Nick Perera and junior David Walker, the Gauchos have one of the most dynamic attacks in the Big West, but need to capitalize on their opportunities. UCSB out-shot the Mustangs nearly 2:1 in Wednesday’s game but still could not find the net.
If things go UCSB’s way on Saturday and the Gauchos clinch the regular season title, the benefits would be huge.
“[Home-field advantage] would mean a lot,” Otii said. “We get pumped up for night games, and when the crowd comes out and there’s a lot on the line, our players always step up.”
Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. at UC Davis on Saturday.