Coming off of a tough 1-0 loss to No. 1 UCLA last Saturday, the UCSB men’s soccer team is looking to get back on track with home games against San Diego State and Drake University this weekend.
The loss to the Bruins dropped the Gauchos below .500 for the second time this season to a record of 2-3-1. The Aztecs come into the weekend with an impressive 5-2-0 record while the Bulldogs enter at 2-4-1 overall.
“The key for us is to be able to build on what we did Saturday night, the good things that we did,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “Going into this weekend, the emphasis for us as a team is to continue to play well from the 18-yard box to the 18-yard box, but we have to be able to eliminate that one mistake and somebody has to score for us. It’s a big weekend for us before we get going in the league.”
Up first for Santa Barbara will be San Diego State on Friday. Despite the Aztecs’ hot start to the season, home-field advantage may prove to be an important factor as all five of their wins this year have come at home.
“San Diego State is kind of a scrappy team. They won’t really make 10, 15 passes in a row,” sophomore goalkeeper Josh McNeely said. “I think they’re just going to try to sit behind the ball and capitalize on one of our mistakes, but that’s where we have to do better and keep it tight in the back.”
San Diego’s offense is powered by forward David Olsen, who has scored a team-high five goals in seven starts. The 6’0” freshman is complemented on the attacking front by sophomore forward Forrayah Bass, who has accumulated three goals and four assists in only five starts this season.
“[The Aztecs] have some good players up front that’ve been scoring a lot of goals,” Vom Steeg said. “I think it’s a dangerous attacking team, but they’ve also been giving up goals.”
While the Gauchos did just hold the No. 1 team in the nation to a single goal last weekend, they have had some early season defensive struggles, most notably in giving up three goals to No. 22 Furman and four to No. 19 Stanford in previous weeks.
“This is one of those games where I think it’s a good opportunity for us to take advantage of a defense that maybe isn’t as good as UCLA’s, but obviously we haven’t gotten a shutout this year,” Vom Steeg said. “We have a lot to do defensively to make sure that we start getting shutouts.”
On Sunday, Drake will come to town looking to build on its recent 1-0 win over UMKC. The Bulldogs, who are currently averaging just over one goal per game as a team, have had their own share of defensive struggles this season, giving up 11 scores in just seven games.
“The thing about Drake is that they’re a very disciplined team. They play basically a 4-5-1, they’re very organized,” Vom Steeg sad. “It’s a team that in the past we’ve struggled to find goals against, so hopefully we can find some goals on Friday night and have that lead into Sunday.”
A point of emphasis for UCSB this weekend will be its offensive presence, especially after a solid defensive outing against UCLA was essentially wasted due to its inability to score a goal. So far, the team total of eight goals has been equally spread between eight different players.
“Offensively, it’s not just scoring goals, we need to be more dangerous,” Vom Steeg said. “We need to be able to get more coming off the amount of times we’re on the ball.”
While the Gauchos know they won’t necessarily be able to control how many goals they score or concede, what they must control is their mental game. Mental lapses on the defense have been costly at times this season, and the importance of every moment on the field will only grow when Big West play begins next week.
“We have these little 10-minute lapses where we either lose focus or are under a bit of pressure, which is normal for soccer games. We just have to really stay focused for those 10 minutes,” McNeely said. “[The key] is just going to be staying focused for a full 90 minutes, improving on our defensive errors, and really staying focused in those ten-minute lapses.”
Kickoff against San Diego State is set for 7:00 p.m. this Friday, while the game against Drake is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. on Sunday.
A version of this article appeared on page 7 of September 25, 2014th’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.