One team will enter Harder Stadium tonight donning national championship rings and a No. 3 ranking in the nation. The other will take the field with a 0-2 league record and a thirst to revitalize a tarnished reputation.
“We need to do the things we do well which is possess and keep the ball,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “And from there it’s finding a way to get the ball in the back of the net. It’s a chance for us to do some great things.”
The UCSB men’s soccer team (6-3-1) hosts the defending national champion Akron Zips (7-0-2) tonight in what will be the Gauchos’ highest-profile matchup of the year.
“They haven’t lost in two years,” senior midfielder Luis Silva said. “It’s going to be a good game.”
Both teams enter the match riding streaks: the Zips with a 59-game undefeated streak dating back to last season, and the Gauchos with a two-game losing streak in the Big West. UCSB is also coming back from a recent 16-game home win streak that was ended by No. 7 UC Irvine this past weekend. The loss dropped the Gauchos down in the national rankings to No. 15, their lowest national ranking this season.
The Zips have earned their No. 3 ranking on both sides of the field, outscoring opponents 22-3 over the past nine games. Akron’s defense has held opponents to one or less goals in every game this season, making it just one of four teams in the country to have allowed three or less goals total this year.
“Every defense is breakable,” senior forward Waid Ibrahim said. “The goals are not coming as we want them too but [tonight] is a different night … we just have to finish every chance we get.”
The Zips’ defense is matched by an offensive attack that has given them a No. 6-ranked scoring average with 2.44 goals per game. Sophomore forward Darren Mattocks is currently eighth in the nation in goals scored, with an average of .88 per game.
UCSB’s offense has struggled of late, unable to find the back of the net during last weekend’s match against UC Irvine, and only connecting on three of the 44 total shots taken in the two games prior.
“We’ll create a lot of chances like we did in the last games but it’s just a matter of putting it away,” Silva said.
Silva, along with sophomore forward David Opoku, currently leads the Gauchos and the Big West Conference in goals with a total of five this season.
In a match that can potentially lift the Gauchos in the national rankings and re-establish the squad as preseason Big West favorites, UCSB will need to find a way to connect on its offensive opportunities.
“When you play the national champions, the chances don’t come very often,” Ibrahim said. “So our goal is to finish the ones we get.”
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Harder Stadium.