After going undefeated the first 11 games of the season, the No. 8 men’s soccer team has dropped its last two. But a win won’t come easy today, as the Gauchos host the best team in the Big West in Sacramento State.
“We expect a battle against Sac State,” senior midfielder Nic Ryan said. “They’re in first place and they’re there for a reason. We know if we want to do anything this season, we have to beat these guys.”
The Hornets hold a 7-4-2 overall record and are undefeated in the Big West at 4-0-1. Santa Barbara sits in a tie for third place with Cal Poly with an 8-2-3 overall and a 2-2-1 conference record. Five points out of second place in the North Division, the Gauchos see this as a must-win game.
“We have to come out with a win,” Ryan said. “There’s 12 points left [in conference] and we’re six points behind Sac State. We feel we can definitely make up some ground on Tuesday.”
The matchup against Sac State opens up a four game home stand for UCSB. With a 3-1-1 record at Harder Stadium, the Gauchos will look to take advantage of playing in front of a home crowd.
“We’re playing at home, so we have the advantage,” junior midfielder Fifi Baiden said. “We’re coming off two losses, so we’re fired up and we don’t want to repeat those mistakes.”
For this game, one thing is on the mind of the UCSB squad: scoring goals. Despite ranking second in shots with 16.83 per game and first in goals per game with 2.08, the Gauchos have been shut out in three of their last four games, finding the back of the net just once in that span.
“No matter what happens, we have to put goals in the net,” Baiden said. “That’s our motive. We’re going to do everything we can to increase our goal-scoring opportunities.”
In Big West games, the Hornets are second from the bottom in shots, taking just 12.75 per game, but take advantage of their opportunities. The team ranks second in goals per game with 1.5.
The Gauchos will once again need to break through a tough defense to score. Sac State allows just .5 goals per game, second in the Big West. Anchoring the Hornet defense is senior goalkeeper Bryan Oliver, who has the best save percentage in the league at 82.9 percent and leads the Big West in saves with 5.73 per contest.
“I think [the key] has to be combination play … being calm and being patient,” Ryan said. “We’re not a team that plays the ball over the top, so I think we just need to play the way we know best … pass and get behind the defense that way.”
On the other end of the pitch is UCSB’s sophomore keeper Austin Mansker. Mansker leads the conference with a .73 goals against average. With two of the best keepers in the Big West on display, offensive execution may determine the outcome.
Offensively, the Hornets will look to three key players: midfielders Chris Sandoval, senior and Gabe Silveira, junior, who have each scored four goals on the year, as well as junior forward Isaac Ikyurav, who has tallied three goals and four assists.
Kickoff on Tuesday against Sac State is set for 7 p.m. at Harder Stadium.