The last time UCSB faced off against UC Irvine, the result was a 4-2 drubbing at the hands of the Anteaters. The game, which was 4-0 long before the Gauchos put in two meaningless second-half penalty kicks, was nowhere near as close as the score.
The image of the Anteaters celebrating on their home turf, having just dethroned Santa Barbara from the Big West title, still burns bright in the minds of all those involved. But before UCSB gets its shot at revenge this weekend in Harder Stadium, the Gauchos will first have to go through San Diego State on the road.
The weekend slate includes a Friday game in San Diego, followed up by a home match with conference rival Irvine on Sunday. While Sunday’s Big West opener may loom large on the horizon, getting past the Aztecs first will be no easy feat.
San Diego State (1-2-2) may not have a fantastic record, but they have always played UCSB tough. The last time the teams met up was in the first round of the 2006 NCAA tournament; a game in which the soon to be national champion Gauchos barely scraped out a 2-1 win.
“The key on Friday is keeping everything tight at the back,” junior defender Michael Boxall said. “If we just defend well as a team, we’ll put at least one away at some point.”
The Gaucho defense has been solid to this point in the season, giving up one goal or less in all but one game so far (a 4-3 win over Pittsburgh). In fact, through five regular season games (in which UCSB has tallied a 4-1-0 record) the team has only given up four goals. And judging by the performance of the offense so far, Boxall’s prediction of a goal or two seems destined to come true.
UCSB’s offense has notched 14 goals in those same five games with senior forward David Walker, senior midfielder Martin Hedevag and freshman forward Michael Nonni bearing the brunt of that weight. Hedevag has been particularly efficient, with four goals on just five shots to this point.
However, while SDSU will by no means be a walk in the park, the real challenge for Santa Barbara this weekend should be the Anteaters. While Irvine took the Big West title and the season series from the Gauchos last year, UCSB’s confidence could not be higher.
“We’re in the right place mentally right now to go out and destroy these guys,” Walker said. “I know a lot of people are fed up we didn’t get a Big West championship last year.”
Irvine (5-2-1) returns a lot of its offense, as well as upstart keeper Andrew Fontein, who was stellar for the Anteaters in his freshman year. The offense is anchored by returning stars Irving Garcia, Spencer Thompson, Carlos Aguilar and Amani Walker. All players are listed as forwards for UCI and have tallied 11 of the team’s 12 goals, but all have started every game. The quadrangle of attackers makes Irvine a dangerous test for any defense, but the Gauchos are excited for the challenge.
“Last season is definitely on our minds,” Boxall said. “It should be a good battle. We need to play hard in front of the home fans and pull off a win.”
Sunday’s game is scheduled as part of the 4 p.m. men’s and women’s soccer doubleheader. The women take on #4 UCLA in the early game, while the men’s tangle with UCI is slated for 6:30 p.m.