After three straight wins at home, including a last-minute 2-1 victory over Cal Poly on Wednesday, the Gauchos (6-3-2 overall, 3-1 Big West) will have their work cut out for them tonight when they take on #11 Duke (5-2-4 overall) in the fourth and final game of this home stand.
[media-credit name=”Daniel Wade” align=”alignleft” width=”250″][/media-credit]“This is definitely one that’s been circled on the calendar,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “It’s very difficult to get teams from the [Atlantic Coast Conference] on your schedule, and it’s even more difficult to get them at home. It’s a huge, huge game.”
Fortunately for UCSB, Vom Steeg will have a few extra weapons at his disposal tonight for the national television cameras. Senior goalkeeper Sam Hayden will be back in net after finishing his three-game red card suspension and senior defender Michael Boxall is activated after sustaining a red card against Cal State Fullerton last week.
“I’m extremely excited. Ever since I realized I couldn’t play three games, it’s been a terrible two weeks,” Hayden said. “It’ll be hard to get back into the swing of things, but I’ve been training every day trying to stay fit and sharp. It’s all about confidence, really. We should be alright.”
Junior midfielder Michael Tetteh, who has played in just five games this season due to injury, will also be ready to go should Vom Steeg need him. After a grueling match against Cal Poly that went down to the wire just two days ago, Tetteh could indeed see playing time.
“It’s great to be at full strength in terms of having all options available,” Vom Steeg said. “Tetteh is going to be somewhat limited because he hasn’t touched a ball in at least three weeks, but he is a player that can walk on a field in minimal minutes and change a game. He’s a nice option to have.”
On the offensive side of the ball, UCSB will be going up against one of the stingiest defenses in college soccer. Duke allows just .67 goals against per match on average, good for 24th in the nation. The Blue Devils also have experience in big games, having already played against five of the nations top-25 teams this season, going 1-2-2. Sophomore forward Sam Garza, who leads the Gauchos with five goals on the season, will pace the Gauchos on offense.
“Duke’s a really good team defensively so it’s not going to be easy,” Garza said. “We probably won’t get that many chances, so if I get one chance I have to put it away. The team is going to have to be really clinical, and if I have a one on one I have to bury it.”
Scoring early will be a priority for Santa Barbara, with the team going 6-0 in games where they score first, but having Hayden and Boxall back will give a boost to a defense trying to stop a Duke team that has scored four goals in a match three times so far this season. UCSB is just one place behind the Blue Devils in goals against with .68, posting four shutouts in its last seven games. All the statistics, though, go out the window when the lights go on at Harder Stadium.
“Everyone’s pumped,” Garza said. “Last night I [could] hardly go to bed because this game kept going through my mind. I’ve never played on national TV before, so it’s going to be intense. I think the guys are coping with it well though, so I will be ready to go.”
Kickoff at Harder Stadium is at 8 p.m. following the women’s soccer conference match against UC Davis.