The UCSB men’s soccer team (9-3-2 overall, 5-1 Big West) is heading into do-or-die time in the Big West.

[media-credit name=”Photo courtesy of Mark Honbo” align=”alignleft” width=”189″][/media-credit]They have four games remaining on the schedule, all of them in-conference. One will be against #9 UC Irvine and another, against rival Cal Poly, will be on national TV.

Cal State Northridge (2-10-2 overall, 1-4-1 Big West) is the next foe on the schedule for UCSB on Saturday at Harder. The Gauchos sit atop the conference with 15 points. UC Irvine, which came back from an early deficit against Northridge to win 2-1 Wednesday, lurks in second place with 13. Although the Matadors’ record is less than impressive, the strength of the conference is enough to ignore those statistics.

“I don’t even know if it’s about records in the Big West,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “I think you throw out the records. Northridge will be very, very competitive. They’ve just found ways to lose games.”

The Gauchos have not lost since September, winning six in a row against the likes of nationally-ranked Duke as well as each team in the Big West except Northridge and Irvine. In those six matches, opponents have scored just five goals to 15 for UCSB. One reason for the victories is the team’s aggressive defense, which has led to red-card suspensions for senior goalkeeper Sam Hayden and senior defender Michael Boxall. Junior Chris Hunter joins that list tomorrow after a final-minute red card on Wednesday.

“I just think our defenders’ mindset is to be aggressive,” Boxall said. “We want to win the ball at all costs and that can be seen by refs as a little overaggressive. They’re doing their jobs and we’re doing ours.”

Asked if the recent flurry of red cards would affect the team’s play, Boxall said simply, “Not a chance.”

Hunter, though, has started in each of UCSB’s 13 games this season and will leave a gap for Vom Steeg and his squad to fill.

“It depends on what Northridge has,” Vom Steeg said. “But what we’ve learned so far is that if the rest of the team gets going, that one position doesn’t make a difference.”

On the other side of the pitch, Northridge has allowed three goals in three matches this season, something UCSB has done only once. Sophomore forward Sam Garza leads the Gaucho attack with 45 shots and six goals in 13 games.

“Everyone’s starting to gel together,” Garza said. “We’re finding ways to get goals. We need a win right here to set us up in a good position to win the Big West, so we just have to play our game and chances will come and goals will come.”

After playing three games in five days, as well as a mid-week drive to Davis, Vom Steeg is happy to be back.

“This has been a really difficult stretch,” Vom Steeg said. “We’ve had four games in eight days. We pulled back in at literally 5 o’clock in the morning [yesterday]. The best thing going for us is that the game on Saturday is at home. You know we’re going to be fired up to play.”

Kickoff on Saturday is early, set for 7 p.m. before the national television cameras find the Gauchos again for a road match against Cal Poly next week.