After suffering its first loss of the season last weekend to Cal State Northridge, the No. 8 UCSB men’s soccer team will look to rebound in a critical matchup Saturday against UC Davis.
“We will look at [the Northridge] game and that loss and use it as motivation,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “Saturday and every game the rest of the way become games we have to win. The guys on our team are highly competitive and they hate to lose, so I’m confident we’ll have a big response.”
At 8-1-3 overall and 2-1-1 in the Big West, the Gauchos are currently in third place in the North Division. The Aggies sit one spot above in the standings with a record of 5-4-4 overall and a 3-1 conference record. Although the Big West playoffs are a month away, only two teams from the North Division go to playoffs, so this game is essential for UCSB.
“It’s definitely a crucial game,” senior midfielder Nic Ryan said. “If they [win], they go up five or six points on us and if we win, we overtake them for second place. Two teams move on in the north, so it’s a huge game.”
Davis enters the game on a three-game win streak and seems to have finally found its stride. In the last four conference games, the Aggies have scored six goals, good enough for second in the Big West.
“Davis is always a tough battle,” Ryan said. “They play with a lot of energy and [recently] they’ve been doing well scoring goals. They’re a team we can’t take lightly.”
While the Aggies won’t be found atop the rankings in virtually any Big West category, the team succeeds with its solid defense.
“They’re a good team defensively,” Ryan said. “They work for each other. They stay in and stay in and then get that one goal and that’s all they need.”
All season UCSB has proven that its offense is strong and potent, ranking first in goals per game with 2.08 and second in shots per game with 16.83, but the Gauchos have struggled recently with giving up the first goal. In its last two matches, Santa Barbara has allowed the opponent to get on the score sheet first.
“The key [for us] will be finding the back of the net,” junior midfielder Fifi Baiden said. “We’ve been struggling to get our forwards going, so [getting] on the score sheet early is a big key.”
Offensively, Ryan has stepped up to lead the attack for the Gauchos. Ryan is tied for second in the Big West in points with 13 (six goals and one assist) as well as game winning goals with four. Ryan’s last example of late game heroics came against UC Irvine last Friday when Ryan scored the golden goal in double overtime with 24 seconds remaining.
“[Ryan’s] picking up the slack, but we need production from our forwards right now,” Vom Steeg said. “We need Dion, Javier, and Ema
to score. That hasn’t happened the last couple weekends. Nic should be third or so on our team in scoring.”
In order to find that offensive rhythm again, the Gauchos will work on simply focusing and taking advantage of their chances.
“You saw against Northridge and Irvine that we were playing well and got some very good looks on goal and we didn’t put it on frame,” Vom Steeg said. “The next thing you know, on their first or second shot, they found the back of the net. The key for us is that when we are playing well, that we get a goal. If you don’t, you let the other team have confidence.”
Kickoff is set for 3 p.m. at Aggie Soccer Field.