A rivalry will be renewed tonight when Gaucho blue meets Mustang green on the brightly lit field beneath the bleachers of Harder Stadium.
Though the UCSB men’s soccer team has already secured its berth in the Big West postseason tournament, tonight’s match still serves as an opportunity for the Gauchos to improve on their turbulent regular season performance before entering playoffs.
“There’s nothing they can do to make the playoffs,” senior midfielder James Kiffe said. “We need to get these points so we can get a home game in conference playoffs. We have a lot more on the line than they do.”
The four teams participating in the Big West tournament have been set, yet the rankings are subject to change depending on the outcomes of this weekend’s league games. UCSB (12-5-1 overall, 5-4 in conference) currently ranks No. 3 in the Big West behind No. 1 UC Irvine and No. 2 UC Davis, and is trailed by No. 4 UC Riverside.
Entering the match, UCSB’s offense leads the league in five major statistical categories, including goals (41), goals per game (2.28), assists (35), assists per game (1.94) and overall points (117). The Gauchos are also ranked No. 6 in the nation in total goals scored.
“We’ve scored 10 goals in three games,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “At this stage in the year we know our best defense may be our offense.”
Senior midfielder Luis Silva has been an important asset for the Gaucho offensive attack. His seven conference-game goals currently rank him at No. 1 in the league, and his game-winning shot against Cal State Northridge earlier this week secured UCSB’s place in the Big West tournament.
“To say he’s been playing well is an understatement,” Vom Steeg said. “Because of the number of injuries we’ve had we have to have a few players step up, and Luis Silva has done exceptional.”
Injuries have plagued the UCSB squad throughout the season. Junior midfielder Machael David, sophomore defender Matthew Glodack, sophomore midfielder Fifi Baiden and junior midfielder Josue Madueno have all been forced to either miss a game or leave the field for the remainder of a match during this season due to injury.
With the loss of certain key players in the Gaucho lineup, others have been able to fill the void. A notable player that has stepped into the role left behind due to injuries is freshman defender Marshall Cazeres, who has started and played throughout all of the last three games for UCSB.
“As a freshman, it’s not easy to come into a team in the situation we’re in,” Kiffe said. “But he’s done really well. Marshall has been huge.”
Playing alongside Cazeres on the UCSB back line is senior defender Tim Pontius, whose last performance at Harder Stadium resulted in a two-goal outing, including a 61-yard score from across the midfield line.
Pontius and junior goalkeeper André Grandt, who has amassed six shutouts on the season, will lead the Gaucho defense against a Cal Poly attack that ranks last in the Big West in total goals and goals per game, yet was able to outscore UCSB 2-1 on the last meeting between the teams.
“We just have to be physical; we can’t let them through easily,” Pontius said. “We have to be aware of where their guys are on the field at all times.”
Six of the last nine matches between UCSB and Cal Poly have gone into extra time. The Gauchos currently hold an undefeated 4-0-1 overtime record this year, while the Mustangs have been unable to pull off a victory in the three OT matches they’ve played this season.
Tonight’s match against the Mustangs has drawn heavy publicity over the past week. Fox Soccer Channel will be broadcasting the game live on national television. Woodstock’s Pizza has offered a free one-slice coupon to each student if Harder Stadium is filled to capacity, a feat the Mustang student fanbase was able to achieve three weeks ago to the day when the then-No. 18 Gauchos were upset on the road at Cal Poly.
“Our team had to listen to 11,000 Cal Poly fans,” Vom Steeg said. “We’re really hoping that Cal Poly is going to have to listen to 16,000 of our fans.”
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. tonight at Harder Stadium.