With a loss and a draw in its first two Big West conference games this past weekend, the UCSB women’s soccer team now goes on the road for its first road trip of conference play. The Gauchos will have no easy task as they look to build upon last weekend’s performance against preseason conference favorite Long Beach State and second in conference UC Irvine.
“This weekend will probably be our toughest weekend of the season,” senior midfielder/defender Erin Ortega said. “Long Beach [was] a top 25 team and we’ve always struggled playing at UC Irvine. I think it’ll be a good challenge for the team especially since we’re still young … It’ll be a good challenge and we’re excited.”
UCSB (3-7-2 overall, 0-1-1 Big West) is coming off two overtime games that resulted in mixed results. In last Friday’s conference home opener against UC Davis, the Gauchos gave up a goal in sudden death overtime after tying the match with five minutes left in regulation. Santa Barbara responded last Sunday against the University of the Pacific and managed a 3-3 tie in double overtime after falling behind by two goals.
The 49ers, which hold a 8-4-0 overall record an a 1-1-0 Big West record, will host the Gauchos tonight and look to rebound after its stunning 2-1 defeat against Cal State Fullerton last Sunday. Long Beach entered the contest as the only nationally-ranked team in the Big West with a ranking of No. 24, but dropped out of the national rankings for the first time this season after allowing a goal to Fullerton in the 88th minute. Senior forward Nadia Link will head the 49er offense; the 2011 Big West Offensive Player of the Year leads the team with five goals scored including one against UC Riverside in last Friday’s 5-1 victory. UCSB will also have to account for LBSU’s balanced attack as six different players scored in last weekend’s games and 13 players have scored 22 goals in total for the 49ers.
“We really need to clean up [defensively] in the future because I think better teams will take advantage of some of those mistakes we made,” Head Coach Paul Stumpf said. “We do need to do a better job of not giving up soft goals, which I think we gave two or three soft goals up [last weekend] … We really need to tighten the defense.”
Santa Barbara will then travel to Anteater Stadium on Sunday to face Irvine (6-7 overall, 2-0 Big West), which was picked to finish second in conference during the preseason, and is currently tied for first. Irvine has a decisive home-field advantage over the Gauchos who haven’t won at UCI since 2005 and haven’t scored there since 2007.
“I think [UC Irvine’s] field is a lot smaller than ours, so there’s less to work with. They’ve always brought in a huge home crowd and they’re pretty amped up,” Ortega said. “After Friday’s game at Long Beach, its going to be tough to get back up on Sunday and play just as hard in the game.”
UCSB will need a better offensive output as it ranks near the bottom of the league in shots per match (12). Only two Gauchos have managed to both score a goal and notch an assist in the season, translating to only one win in the last five games.
Kickoff against Long Beach is scheduled for Friday at 7 p.m. and the match at Irvine will take place Sunday at 1 p.m.