After over two weeks on the road, the #6 UCSB men’s soccer team finally returns to Harder Stadium Saturday night for a showdown with conference foe Cal State Fullerton.
Since beating Cal Poly 1-0 in their last home match, the Gauchos have had an up-and-down time away from home. UCSB beat UC Riverside 1-0, then demolished Davis 3-0 before sustaining its first conference loss to Cal State Northridge 1-0 last Sunday. This weekend, Santa Barbara expects to return to form.
The Gauchos, who have recently been beset with injuries and illness, should have a nearly immaculate squad on Saturday. With freshman phenom Michael Nonni returned from injury and senior forward David Walker castless for the first time since mid-September, the UCSB offense should have a much-needed boost. Being at Harder Stadium should help things as well.
Santa Barbara is 5-1 at home this year, including decisive victories over solid opponents like Indiana, UC Irvine and Rutgers. Aside from one slip-up versus Loyola Marymount University, It has been nearly impossible to defeat the Gauchos on Meredith Field. The fans might have something to do with that. The 4,880 fans on average that fill Harder Stadium are bar none the most in the country by a large margin, and UCSB is on pace to crush the national average and total attendance marks this year.
Sitting at #6 in the country with a 10-3-1 record, the Gauchos outmatch most teams on paper. Cal State Fullerton is no exception, as the Titans are unranked and 7-6-2 overall. However, things are not as peachy for UCSB as they appear on the surface.
Santa Barbara is currently tied with Cal Poly for first in the conference with 12 points apiece (though UCSB has the advantage with a game in hand and the first tiebreaking win) and can ill afford to lose in the Big West. The Gauchos lost the conference crown last year to UC Irvine and have been striving all season long to win it back. To do so, taking care of business against opponents like Fullerton, all the while carrying a target on their back by being a top-10 team, becomes all the more important.
The Titans are led by Celso Alvarez, who has five goals and an assist on the season. The Gaucho back line will have to shut down Alvarez, along with Shay Spitz and Jamall Farquharson (each of whom have tallied nine points) in order to post another shutout. Before giving up a 78th minute goal against Northridge, UCSB had gone 542 minutes without conceding a single score. In Big West play, the CSUN winner has been the only goal Santa Barbara has allowed.
On the offensive side for UCSB, the Gauchos can count on Nonni and Walker, as well as sophomore midfielder Danny Barrera for production. The members of the trio have five goals each and account for a substantial amount of Santa Barbara’s offense.
Saturday’s game is set for 7 p.m. and is one of only three remaining regular season home games. Students are, as always, admitted free with an ACCESS card.