The No. 5 UCSB men’s soccer team travels to face Sacramento State today with a chance to clinch the Big West outright with a victory. Santa Barbara has already clinched the Big West North and can secure home-field advantage throughout the Big West Tournament by securing the conference’s top spot.
UCSB enters Wednesday’s game with an 11-4-2 overall record and 6-0-2 mark in conference play. Sacramento State, meanwhile, sits at 3-10-3 this season and is in last place in the Big West at 1-7.
“It’s right in front of us and we just need to do the things we need to do on the field,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “They have players that can hurt you. We also know that it’s a team that defensively does give up goals.”
Back in October when these two teams met at Harder Stadium, the Gauchos used a strong offensive performance from freshman forward Ismaila Jome to down the Hornets 2-1. The Hornets have given up the most goals in the conference with 27 allowed this season; a recipe for disaster when considering UCSB ranks third in the Big West with 27 goals scored this season.
Santa Barbara is coming off a 1-1 draw against UC Davis, a result that extended the Gauchos unbeaten streak to nine games and kept their conference recorded undefeated.
Sac State has dropped seven of its last eight matches, accumulating only one victory in conference play. Last time out, Sac State was trounced 4-2 by Cal Poly, and although the Hornets lost, it was the first time all season they scored more than one goal in a match. The Hornets rank last in the Big West with 11 goals scored in 16 games this season.
“Hopefully we can get on top of them early and stay on top of them,” Vom Steeg said. “What we’re looking for is a really solid game on Wednesday where we put our defense and offense together, play a complete game and come out with a win.”
With one of the highest RPI rankings in the country, the Gauchos case for postseason play beyond the conference tournament looks strong. Another victory Wednesday will only solidify UCSB’s place in the NCAA tournament.
UCSB will however enter the game shorthanded. Freshman midfielder Paul Ehmann must sit out the contest due to accumulating five yellow cards this season. Injuries have also taken a toll on the Gauchos as senior defender Peter Schmetz is out for the near future and senior forward and leading goal scorer Achille Campion is questionable for the game.
“I think every Big West game is a challenge. Out of the eight Big West games that we’ve played, I think we’ve been behind in six of them,” Vom Steeg said. “It’s not what we want to do, but we are just having to battle our way all the way until the end of the season. I just wouldn’t be surprised if Wednesday isn’t any different; we’re going to have to battle our way through Wednesday’s game, and once again, like we’ve been doing, find a way to win.”
Kickoff Wednesday is scheduled for 2 p.m. at Hornet Soccer Field.
A version of this article appeared on page 9 of November 6th’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo by Peter Vandenbelt of the Daily Nexus.