An unbeaten streak is at stake for the UCSB men’s soccer team when it takes on the University of California, Berkeley tonight at Harder Stadium. The Gauchos’ season has been far from perfect, and they have even suffered a few rare home losses in the process, but this game is different. This is the playoffs.
UCSB has never lost a playoff game at Harder Stadium. Berkeley hopes to change that starting at 7 p.m. The Gauchos may have their hands full.
“It’s going to be a good game,” senior forward Nick Perera said. “I think it’s going to be a battle.”
Perera, the 2006 College Cup Most Outstanding Offensive Player, knows a little something about playoffs. He has four career playoff goals and led the Gauchos in their 2006 National Championship run. If UCSB is going to make a similar run this season, it is going to need to turn things around quickly.
Santa Barbara is currently riding a five-game winless streak, with two losses and three ties in that span. However, the team remains optimistic about the NCAA Tournament.
“We’ve looked really good in practice,” first-team All Big West forward Chris Pontius said. The Gauchos’ leading scorer continued: “Everyone’s got their legs back, and I think we’ll be ready for tomorrow.”
This marks Santa Barbara’s seventh consecutive NCAA appearance, and in the last five tournaments UCSB has advanced to at least the third round. In fact, the last time the Gauchos were ousted before the sweet sixteen was in 2002, against — guess who — the UC Berkeley Bears.
“[We can] keep the streak alive by getting numbers on the ball and out-working Cal,” Pontius said.
UCSB is also likely to benefit from a big home-field advantage, as Harder Stadium crowds are notoriously the biggest and rowdiest in the country. And while some of the luster of past years seems to have left SB this conference season with a bundle of home ties and even losses, Berkeley may be in for quite a surprise.
“It’s different to play in conference — those teams know what it’s like to play at Harder,” Perera said. “It makes a huge difference if we can get a big crowd.”
The Bears entered the tournament by way of an at-large bid, and faced off against the University of San Francisco in the first round. Berkeley had no problem dispatching its neighbors from across the Bay, winning a 3-0 affair and advancing to play UCSB. The last time these two teams met was in 2005 when Santa Barbara fell 2-0. Berkeley leads the series 14-11-3 all time.
Kickoff for the match is set for 7 p.m. at Harder Stadium, but fans should be advised to get there early to buy tickets. Admission is $5 for students and $10 for non-students.