The women’s soccer team plays their first two conference matches of the season this weekend, beginning today against a struggling UC Riverside (1-7-2 overall) squad and continuing Sunday against Long Beach State (7-3-1 overall).

[media-credit id=20120 align=”alignleft” width=”127″][/media-credit]Preseason polls of the Big West coaches predicted that the Gauchos (4-4-2 overall) would finish in first place this season, but their 1-4-2 record since winning their first three games at Harder suggests that the team has a long road to climb.

Defensively, the Gauchos have allowed only 10 goals in 10 matches thanks to the efforts of freshman goalkeeper Makenna Henry, who has posted four shutouts this season. In UCSB’s 0-0 tie against Fresno State, Henry saved five shots on goal. She has only allowed two goals in the span of 400 minutes.

Not much more could be asked of the Gaucho defense, but the team’s offensive production has plummeted since scoring nine goals in the span of its first three games. Senior Kailyn Kugler, who earned the 2009 Big West Offensive Player of the Year award, has been sidelined with a strained quad since Sept. 19, and the Gauchos have failed to score in 200 minutes without her presence in the lineup. Kugler has 24 career goals, which puts her in ninth place on UCSB’s all-time most goals list.

The Highlanders have had struggles of their own. Their only win came against Texas State 1-0 on Sept. 3. The win also happened to coincide with the only goal the team has scored all season long.

The 49ers should be a much tougher opponent for UCSB. Picked in preseason polls to finish second in the conference, the team trails UCSB 10-8-1 all-time in matches between the two. It also lost 3-2 in overtime to the Gauchos when they met last year at Harder Stadium.

Long Beach sophomore forward Nadia Link leads the 49ers — and the conference — with six goals on the year.

UCSB has a total of 14 assists compared to nine for its opponents. The squad also averages 14.4 shots per game compared to their opponents’ 11.

Senior Erica Seidman leads the Gauchos with three goals. Including Kugler, four players are tied with two goals scored. Senior Jacqui Simon leads the team with three assists.

Tonight’s match against the Highlanders will begin at 7 p.m., while Sunday’s match against Long Beach begins at 1 p.m.