The UCSB men’s soccer team will return to Harder Stadium for its second game of Big West conference play this Saturday against No. 9 UC Irvine. UC Riverside upset the then-No. 10 ranked Gauchos in Riverside this past Wednesday 3-1 in the first game of league play for both teams.
“It was a tough loss,” sophomore forward Dom Sarle said. “We’ve got to play with a lot more energy at home with the big crowd.”
UC Irvine is currently 8-2-0 overall, and has not attained a win in conference play. The Anteaters were defeated 1-0 by Cal Poly on the road during the team’s first match on Wednesday. Two teams with no wins in conference play will make this Saturday’s game a near must-win for both squads.
“Both teams know going 0-2 in conference is a big hill to climb back from,” junior forward Michael Nonni said. “We’re gonna get everyone’s best game because we’re a top ranked team, we just have to match their best.”
UCSB’s attacking offense has been able to produce 45 shots in the past two games, yet has only connected on three goals. In order to answer against an aggressive UCI offense, which has scored four goals in three separate games this season, the Gauchos will need to find a way to put points on the board.
“When we have the ball moving and players moving off the ball we’re pretty tough to keep up with,” Nonni said. “If we move around and connect our passes we can play our way through this team.”
Senior midfielder Luis Silva and sophomore forward David Opoku currently lead the team in goals scored with five each. Senior forward Christian Hernandez and sophomore Enrique Cardenas each lead UCI with five goals apiece.
Both offenses will be looking for opportunities to score on Saturday. UCSB’s offense has taken a total of 145 shots through nine games, yielding a 16-shot average per match. UC Irvine has taken 182 shots through 10 games with an 18-shot per game average.
“Defense is a team effort, the ball can’t get to their forwards if their backs can’t get it to them,” senior midfielder James Kiffe said. “Picking your men up really helps, it’s something we didn’t do against Riverside.”
UCI has outscored its opponents 22-10 on the season, while the Gauchos have a score of 24-9 against opposing teams. UCSB will be facing its highest ranked opponent thus far this season in No. 9 Irvine, and, with a match looming against No. 4 Akron, the defending national champions, the Gauchos will use Saturday’s match as a test for the rest of the season.
“Hopefully we can put the balls in the right spots and finish on our chances,” Sarle said. “We know we have to win home games. It builds momentum if we get a win Saturday night.”