UCSB men’s soccer will face an unfamiliar foe Sunday night when Providence College comes to town for a second-round match of the NCAA tournament. It will be the first-ever meeting between the two teams, and the Gauchos’ first game in the NCAA postseason.
“We know that every game could be our last,” junior midfielder Nic Ryan said. “If we’re not physical and don’t do the little things then we won’t succeed.”
Providence enters the match with an 11-7-1 record and an at-large bid into the tournament from the Big East conference. The Friars beat Dartmouth University 1-0 in order to advance to the second round. The Gauchos earned a first-round bye and a No. 15 seed to begin the NCAA tournament, and the game against Providence will be their first of the tournament.
“We have to prepare for them like any other game,” junior forward Dom Sarle said. “We have to finish opportunities when we get them in games and stay tight in the back [line of defense].”
Sarle has been a major addition to the Gaucho offensive attack this season. The New York native has seen action in all 21 of UCSB’s games this year, and his eight assists on the season ranks No. 2 overall on the team.
UCSB had a rocky start to Big West conference play with just a 2-4 record to open the season. A five-game winning streak to close out the regular season allowed the Gauchos to compete in the Big West tournament for the fourth consecutive year. A win against UC Davis in the semifinal match of the tournament allowed the Gauchos to face UC Irvine in the championship, where they were defeated on the road 3-2 in double overtime.
Senior midfielder Luis Silva, who had a goal and an assist in the losing effort against UCI, currently leads the league in goals scored with 16 and goals per game with .80. Silva was named the Big West conference midfielder of the year, adding to a growing list of awards that includes numerous player of the week honors, as well as all-Big West honors for the third straight season. Silva is joined on the All-Big West list by junior forward Sam Garza, senior defender Tim Pontius and senior midfielder James Kiffe, who was also recognized as Big West conference defender of the year.
“We always had players that could score goals for us,” Sarle said. “It helps getting recognize but we knew that all along so hopefully we can keep it up.”
Providence College saw success during the early part of its season with a five-game winning streak, and was able to clinch a berth in the Big East tournament by finishing among the top six teams in the conference. The Friars lost in the first round of the conference tournament by a score of 5-0 to a Louisville team that had lost last year’s NCAA championship match against Akron University.
Providence ranks No. 15 out of 16 in the conference in shots (193) and No. 9 in the conference in goals per game with 1.39, similar in number to the amount of goals per game allowed by UCSB, which stands at 1.38. Sophomore forward Greg Davis and freshman midfielder Marcos Ugarte each lead the Friars in goals with six apiece. Ugarte, along with junior midfielder Marc Cintron, received all-Big East honors this season.
There are stark contrasts in each team’s offensive capabilities. While UCSB has taken a total of 340 shots on the season, Providence has tallied just 193 attempts. However both teams are fairly even in shooting percentage; Providence holds a .130 success rate and the Gauchos manage to score on .138 of their shots.
The teams are almost as equally matched in the shots-on-goal category. Providence scores on .461 of its shots on frame, while UCSB is able to score at a .435 rate of shots on goal. Gaucho junior goalkeeper André Grandt has amassed 60 saves thus far this season, rivaled by 56 total saves by Providence goalie Jhojan Obando.
Should Sunday’s match be stretched to overtime, both teams will compete with experience in extra minutes. Providence is undefeated in overtime matches this season, with a 1-0 win coming against Rhode Island and a 1-1 double OT tie against USF, while UCSB is 4-1-1 in overtime matches this year.
“When we get chances we have to finish them early, Sarle said. “We know what we have to do when we get tight games [because] we’ve learned from this year, NCAA games are going to [be decided by] one or two goals … There will be close games.”
The winner of Sunday’s game will move on to the third round to face the winner of Northern Illinois vs. No. 2 Creighton. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m. on Sunday at Harder Stadium.