A Big West Tournament Championship was one of the main goals for the UCSB men’s soccer team entering this season and that process begins tomorrow night when the No. 5 Gauchos host No. 22 Cal State Northridge in the Big West Semifinals.
UCSB received a first round bye as Big West North Champs, finishing the regular season with a 12-4-3 overall record and 7-0-3 mark in conference play. Following a 4-1 victory over Cal Poly in the Big West Quarterfinals, Northridge improved to 14-5-1 overall and finished with a 5-4-1 Big West record.
“We’re excited; it’s a chance to play against what I think is a really good team. We’re excited that it’s Northridge,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “We know they’re really good, but we also think it’s a good matchup for us in terms of the players they have and the players we have. It’ll be a good game and we’re excited to play in big games.”
Back in October, UCSB battled a one-loss Northridge team to a 2-1 victory in overtime on the road. Santa Barbara trailed late in the game, but forced overtime with a late goal and later prevailed on a penalty kick in overtime.
Santa Barbara last played Saturday in front of a record 12,805 fans in a thrilling 2-0 victory against rival Cal Poly. The victory extended the Gauchos’ undefeated streak to 11 matches, as they have not lost since late September.
“We’re confident about Friday more because of how we played against Cal Poly than the fact that six weeks ago we beat Northridge,” Vom Steeg said. “We’re in a good position. I’m supremely confident we’re in the NCAA Tournament based on where things are right now. This is a great time to be playing and it’s a great time because you spend all year for the games like Friday night.”
Intensity will certainly be ramped up Friday night as both teams are battling for a position in the NCAA Tournament. UCSB looks to have secured a berth in the tournament, but Northridge may still be on the bubble and a victory could go a long way towards a postseason appearance for the Matadors.
Northridge possesses a potent offense, ranking second in the conference with 40 goals this season, compared to third ranked Santa Barbara, which finished the season with 29 goals.
“They play more of a kind of simple way of soccer. They look to counterattack with their fast outside forwards who can handle the ball really well and I think that’s how they’ve scored a lot of their goals this season,” freshman goalkeeper Josh McNeely said. “We’re going to do our best to watch film and study how they play so we can be as best prepared for the offense as possible.”
Santa Barbara possesses the top defense in the conference, allowing a mere 16 goals this season, meaning Friday’s matchup will pit a dangerous offense against a stingy defense.
“We’re actually really excited because this is the second time playing them and the last time played them we won on a last-minute PK goal, so it’ll be interesting to play them again,” sophomore defender Marshall Cazares said. “They’re a good team, they’re probably the best team in the conference after us, so it should be a good game. We’re pumped.”
UCSB has performed well this season and will make the NCAA Tournament at the end of the year, but is currently on the borderline of receiving a national seed ensuring a first round bye in the NCAA Tournament. A victory Friday or an outright Big West Tournament Title will strongly increase those odds.
“Winning on Friday and getting into the Big West Tournament Finals would give us a for sure seed in the NCAA tournament, which is what we’ve based our season off of,” McNeely said. “That would be huge for us and a really big accomplishment so we’re looking forward to trying to get the win on Friday.”
Kickoff Friday night at Harder Stadium is scheduled for 7 p.m.
A version of this article appeared on page 1 of November 14th’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo by Peter Vandenbelt of the Daily Nexus.