The UCSB men’s soccer team will begin Big West play today when it travels to UC Riverside for its league opener. The Gauchos won both of last year’s regular season matches against UCR, including a 4-3 victory on the road in hostile territory.
“Every game we play down there has been a challenge,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “They’re coming off two wins over the weekend so they’ll obviously be fired up to play [today].”
UCR beat Jacksonville University and North Florida University by a combined score of 4-1 this past weekend. Both games were played on the road in Jacksonville, Fla., and today’s game against UCSB will be UCR’s first home game since the start of Fall Quarter.
“When we go play down there with their fans in their atmosphere, it’s going to be a tough game,” sophomore defender Tim Pontius said. “It’s the first game of league so it’s very important no matter who you play.”
The Gauchos are currently on a two game winning streak of their own, coming off victories against University of San Diego and Sacramento State this past Friday and Sunday at Harder Stadium. Both games were shutout victories, and provide some perspective on today’s league opener.
“I think that we are playing a team that plays a similar style to Sac State, so we’re not having to make big adjustments to our game plan,” Vom Steeg said. “The big question for us comes down to our forwards and attacking players.”
Despite the team’s success, the Gaucho front line of junior forward Sam Garza, sophomore forward David Opoku and sophomore forward Dom Sarle was unable to score a goal over the weekend. Instead it was the hat trick by junior forward Luis Silva on Friday and Sunday’s goals by junior midfielder Machael David and Pontius that allowed the Gauchos to leave Harder Stadium undefeated for the weekend.
“Offensively we have more than a couple goal-scorers,” Vom Steeg said. “That helps us take the pressure off [of the forwards].”
UCSB had multiple opportunities to score this past weekend against Sac State, taking an impressive 23 shots on goal, compared to the Hornets’ measly six attempts.
“The point of emphasis going into league is to do more with the chances you get,” Vom Steeg said.
The UCSB defense has been superb thus far, garnering five shutouts on the year. Junior goalkeeper André Grandt amassed seven total saves over the past weekend.
“Our defense was good in league last year, which kept us in games,” Vom Steeg said. “Our defense will be good in league this year.”
UCSB will begin league play against UCR as the No. 1 seed predicted to win the Big West Conference. Last year, the Gauchos beat UCR in the first game of the Big West Tournament en route to winning the Big West title and making a run into the postseason.
“What happens is these league games become so competitive,” Vom Steeg said. “We will always get the other team’s best game, especially when we’re at their place.”
Kickoff for tonight’s match against UC Riverside will take place at 7 p.m. at the UCR Soccer Stadium.