With only four games remaining in the regular season, the No. 25 UCSB men’s soccer team cannot afford to lose anymore. This weekend, the Gauchos will play their final home games of the regular season, taking a break from Big West play Friday to take on Stanford before hosting UC Davis Sunday.
Santa Barbara is currently 9-3-3 overall and 3-3-1 in the Big West but has lost three of its last four games. Sitting in fourth place in the North Division with 10 points, the Gauchos need wins against conference opponents to make the postseason.
“Both games are very important to us, with Sunday being a little bit more important because we know we have to win to get to the Big West playoffs,” senior midfielder Nic Ryan said. “When we play Davis, we know we’re going to give it our all because it could be a make or break game.”
UCSB enters this weekend’s games coming off a tough overtime loss to rival Cal Poly last weekend, in which UCSB gave up a 1-0 lead late in the game.
“For this weekend, we just have to forget about the loss and move on,”junior midfielder Fifi Baiden said. “These are two key games we have to have.”
At 6-7-1 overall and 3-3-1 in the Pac-12, Stanford is a team that relies on its offense to win. The Cardinals are currently second in the Pac-12 in shots with 17.5 per game, although they only convert 1.36 goals per game. Leading the attack for Stanford is senior forward Adam Jahn with eight goals and two assists, good for second in the Pac-12. “He’s 6’3,’’ he’s active … he’s a good forward,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “He’s their go-to guy. If we want to not give up a goal, certainly keeping him from scoring will go a long way.”
An offensively focused game may be exactly what UCSB needs. Struggling to score goals as of late, the Gauchos will look to take advantage of Stanford’s sub- par defense, which allows 1.43 goals per game.
“This is a game for our offense. Right now, on offense, what we lack is confidence,” Baiden said. “We have to find a way to find the back of the net because that confidence will carry over to Davis and if we can get a couple early goals on Davis, [the game] will be over.”
The Aggies are currently in first place in the Big West with 15 points and have won five of their last six games. They hold a 7-5-4 overall and 5-2 conference record.
“The game we absolutely have to win is on Sunday,” Vom Steeg said. “We will work hard to play a number of players on Friday night because I have to have a team that’s rested enough to play on Sunday. If we win on Friday and lose Sunday, it’s a bad weekend.”
At Davis almost two weeks ago, the Gauchos lost 1-0. The Aggies were able to hold UCSB offensively and eventually found a goal in the 85th minute on a free kick.
Each team only took nine shots, which is about eight shots below UCSB’s average of 17.2. Davis also outshot UCSB 4-3 in shots on goal in an offensive struggle for the Gauchos.
“We’re going to attack Davis,” Vom Steeg said.
“We’re going to take 25 shots. I even told the guys I’d like the goal to be 30 shots. We have to be able to get goals.”
While Sunday’s game will feature the two best defenses in conference, with Santa Barbara ranking first in the Big West in goals against average at .82 and Davis ranking second at .95, scoring goals will be the ultimate priority for the Gauchos.
“We’re in a position where we have to take chances, take risks, be aggressive and do everything we can to find the back of the net,” Vom Steeg said. “That exposes you a little bit and you might give something in the back, but we have no choice.”
Kickoff for Friday’s game against Stanford is set for 7 p.m. while Sunday’s game against Davis will start at 2 p.m.