With the Big West Conference schedule nearing its conclusion, UCSB is in a pretty good spot. The Gauchos are in first in the conference, having given up only one goal in six matches. That goal, however, resulted in UCSB’s only league loss to date — a 1-0 road defeat at the hands of Cal State Northridge. Santa Barbara is looking to avenge that loss tonight.
“When we went to Northridge, we got beat to the ball every time,” sophomore midfielder Michael Tetteh said. “They were very physical and we weren’t. Nothing was going our way.”
The Ghanaian international expressed confidence that UCSB would not repeat the same mistakes that doomed them in the Valley.
“This time we’re doing something different,” he said. “Formation-wise it’s going to let us attack more. There’s going to be a lot of offensive options and a lot of shots on goal.”
That should spell good news for UCSB, as the Gauchos have thrived offensively all season. They rank 11th in the country in goals per game, and the Northridge loss was the only shutout they have suffered all season long. But Santa Barbara faces a temporary challenge tonight as senior forward David Walker, who leads the team with six goals, will have to sit due to yellow card accumulation.
Filling that void should be forwards Michael Nonni and Waid Ibrahim. The freshman and sophomore, respectively, are both playing in their first season and have nine goals between them. Combined with a midfield that enjoys the abundance of space Meredith Field provides, even the absence of Walker should not slow down the potent Gaucho front line.
The back, meanwhile, continues to impress. Goalkeeper Sam Hayden, who was named to both the College Soccer News and Soccer America National Teams of the Week for his five-save shutout against Fullerton, has conceded only one goal in his last seven starts. While that goal was against Northridge, Hayden and the defense have proven exceedingly difficult to beat.
The Matadors, meanwhile, sit just a smidgeon over .500, with a 7-6-2 record and a 2-3 mark in Big West play. For any shot at the playoffs, Northridge needs to have a solid end-of-season showing and then win the Big West Tournament for the automatic bid. To duplicate its success from the prior match, CSUN will need to continue to put pressure on the offense.
That pressure will likely come from the likes of Sunghyun Kim and Robert Pate, a deadly offensive tandem that gave UCSB some trouble two weeks ago. Kim lead most of Northridge’s attacks in the game, while Pate notched the only goal on a header off of a corner kick. But without the luxury of home-field advantage, CSUN will likely have trouble controlling the ball against a hungry Santa Barbara team looking for revenge.
As senior midfielder Martin Hedevag said after this weekend’s Fullerton match, these Gauchos are too good to lose games, particularly at home. Tonight provides them a chance to prove that point.
How good is UCSB men’s soccer? Depends who you believe.
The Gauchos are ranked fourth in the nation, according to the latest National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll, and are in the top-10 in just about every assessment. But in the evaluation that matters most — a computer ranking system called the Ratings Percentage Index — Santa Barbara comes up short. The latest incarnation of the RPI (which the NCAA uses to judge and seed teams for the NCAA tournament) has UCSB at 48, a far-cry from any of the human polls.
The disparity stems mostly due to strength of schedule, as many of UCSB’s opponents are having down years. The Gauchos’ most recent loss, a 1-0 road defeat to Cal State Northridge, also hurt their standing. But to remedy its RPI and boost its national reputation, Santa Barbara has one simple solution: Just keep winning.