The UCSB men’s soccer team defeated cross-town rival Westmont for the 10th consecutive time, 3-1, in an exhibition on Saturday night at Harder Stadium, allowing the squad to retain possession of the Bryant and Sons Cup for another year.
“It wasn’t bad, and we only had four days to put things together,” junior forward Waid Ibrahim said. “We played pretty well but there are still a lot of things to catch up with, and so we will be working on that.”
[media-credit id=20037 align=”alignleft” width=”250″][/media-credit]Twelfth-year Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg avoided putting too much emphasis on the game’s importance, given that they had less than a week of practice before the game, but he was able to reflect on certain aspects of his team’s play.
“I didn’t think our pressure and defense was where we want it to be yet, certainly not by the time we start the season,” Vom Steeg said. “It wasn’t terrible, but against a high-quality Division I team we would certainly have to play better.”
On the other side of the ball, Vom Steeg was more optimistic, claiming that the Gauchos looked “very good” after shooting 29 shots, 10 of them on goal.
“[We] moved the ball around fairly well and we were looking for each other and connecting with each other in general,” he said.
Their first strike came quickly, just 10:16 into the game, when sophomore transfer Sam Garza assisted to junior midfielder Luis Silva. The shot was a low blast from about 15 yards out after a nearly perfect cross from Garza.
Next, it was Garza’s time to shine. He took a pass from junior midfielder Danny Barrera at around the 22-minute mark, and Garza snuck in another low one just inside the post.
After Westmont’s first score in the second half to keep it respectable, UCSB decided to get a little insurance on a goal when sophomore forward Michael Nonni snuck another one past Westmont goalkeeper Matthew McNab at the 75:42 mark.
Garza is one of a few new names for the Gauchos this season, as the sophomore is playing his first year in blue and yellow after his freshman season at the University of Denver. So far, he has received only praise from his new teammates.
“They brought in Garza, who is really a very smart player playing underneath,” Ibrahim said. “There’s a little change in the forwards, and our goal this season is to score more goals.”
With such a promising offense, the Gauchos’ defensive potential can be easy to overlook. However, a number of returning defenders provide a strong backfield, and senior goalkeeper Sam Hayden is a one-man powerhouse. In his first season with the Gauchos last year, he started every game and posted a Big West record 16 shutouts.
“We’re pretty set in goal, with Sam again,” senior defender Michael Boxall said. “We’re still going to be pretty aggressive defensively, and if we can just win the ball early and hold on to it, then I think that’s where our strengths lie.”
With weapons at every position, Coach Vom Steeg might struggle to keep the players focused on one game at a time, rather than toward the NCAA College Cup that will be played at Harder in December.
“We go into every season thinking that we want to play to our ability,” Vom Steeg said. “I think that because this is such a talented team, we feel like with the additions that we have made and who we have returning, we should be in a position to be a team that plays in the College Cup. If we get there it’ll be because we get some things to fall into place, and are a little bit lucky, but we have the right mix for us to have one of those special seasons.”
Last season was a near-miss for the Gauchos as they dropped a 2-0 decision to BYU in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. There is a host of new weapons at Vom Steeg’s disposal now, but the whole team believes that they will not be able to rely on just one player for wins.
Ibrahim, for one, knows the possibilities for the season, but also knows that the Gauchos’ success relies on the entire team working in harmony.
“We’re all growing together now,” Ibrahim said. “Each and every player, it doesn’t matter what year, you are a leader and that is your role. It’s up to us to take responsibility.”
The next test for the Gauchos will be an exhibition this Friday at Harder Stadium against the Mexican U-20 team at 7:30 p.m. After that, the regular season kicks off on Sept. 1 at Cal State Bakersfield.
“Everybody knows there are pretty big expectations to go pretty deep in the tournament,” Boxall said. “But honestly, for us, it’s important to go one game at a time, starting with Friday night.”