The No. 10 UCSB men’s soccer team, currently ranked No. 2 in the league, will find itself in a familiar postseason position tonight when it hosts UC Davis in a Big West tournament semifinal match. This year is the fourth consecutive year the Gauchos have advanced to the Big West playoffs, and now must face a desperate Aggie squad whose hopes for an NCAA tournament berth rely entirely on its performance in the conference tournament.
“Davis is a team that if they lose, they fall below .500,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “And they wouldn’t be eligible for the postseason [NCAA tournament]. Whenever you play a team [like that] you will always get a different type of game.”
UC Davis enters the match 9-7-4 overall and with a 5-3-2 mark in league play. UCSB begins the tournament with a 13-5-1 overall record and a 6-4 record in conference, including four straight wins to close out league play.
The first of two matches this season between UCSB and UC Davis was played on UCD’s home field on Oct. 8 and resulted in a 2-1 overtime victory for the Gauchos. During that game, UCSB out-shot the Aggies 21-12, including a 6-4 advantage in shots on goal.
“We have a high-powered offense,” junior forward Michael Nonni said. “We generate so many chances, it’s ridiculous. If we can put some away in the first half we can play more defensive [in the second half].”
Davis countered with a goal during the second half, forcing the game to enter extra minutes. Junior forward Sam Garza was able to connect on the game-winning goal in overtime.
“In overtime what we’ve done all season long is have certain players on our team that are playmakers do something special to win the game,” Vom Steeg said. “We made sure one of those players had the ball.”
Eleven of UCD’s 18 games this season have gone into extra time. UCSB holds an undefeated 4-0-1 record in overtime this year, while UC Davis has compiled a 4-3-4 mark during extra minutes, including the loss to UCSB.
Three weeks after the OT win, UCD traveled to Harder Stadium to play the second league match against UCSB. The game ended with a 3-1 Gaucho victory in which Vom Steeg’s offense again held the advantage in shots taken (12-6) and shots on goal (4-2). Two of UCSB’s three goals were scored by senior defender Tim Pontius, including a 61-yard shot from behind the midfield line.
“We moved the ball well,” Nonni said. “Most of our goals are gonna come off passing, moving and getting behind the defense.”
UC Davis ended its final two games of the regular season in double overtime 1-1 ties against Cal State Fullerton and UC Riverside. The Aggies have had a strong showing on the road during conference play, with wins coming against Cal Poly, Cal State Northridge and UC Irvine during the regular season.
“They are dangerous on set pieces and counter-attacks,” Vom Steeg said. “If we can transition well and make sure we win the battle of the 18-yard box, I think we can keep them from scoring.”
UCSB is currently 8-2-1 at home this season, and has compiled a 16-4-4 overall record against UC Davis. UCD last beat the Gauchos during a regular season game in 2008.
The winner of tonight’s game will move on to the Big West championship. A match between league-ranked No. 1 UC Irvine and league-ranked No. 4 UC Riverside will determine the opponent for tonight’s victor.
A two-day break over the weekend was a much needed period of rest for a team that has been subject to injury throughout the season and has played four games through the past 10 days.
“We were able to gives guys Saturday and Sunday off,” Vom Steeg said. “We got some of our legs back. We should be a fresh team come Wednesday night.”
Senior midfielder Luis Silva will start tonight’s game as the league leader in goals scored with 15 total on the season. Silva and junior forward Dom Sarle are each tied for first in the Big West in assists with eight apiece.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Harder Stadium. Unlike regular season games, students will be charged a $5 admission at the entrance gates.