Just days after the win over Irvine, the UCSB men’s soccer team will host Big West South leaders CSU Northridge on Saturday in the Gauchos’ last match before division play begins. With two wins in the past week, Santa Barbara has been showing great improvement in the back, allowing just a single goal in the games to accompany their usual prowess going forward.
UCSB enters the match at the top of the Big West North with a 2-0-1 record (6-5-1 overall) riding a two-game winning streak. The Matadors will arrive in SB with the same record in conference play (5-4-2 overall) and are coming off a tie at Cal Poly on Thursday.
The Gauchos are back to form after a long slump now that regular season is in full stride, much to the credit of freshman goalkeeper Titouan Le Roux and improved play from the center back position. The Frenchman made five saves in the clean sheet along with a couple clearances on crosses and has played every minute in goal for UCSB in his maiden season.
Against Irvine, senior striker Nick DePuy was called upon to fill in at defense again following senior Andy Perez’s red card, but the surprise performer of the night was freshman defender Lamar Batista, who put in a crucially cool shift in the shutout win.
“Honestly, I thought I could do a lot better, but I’m just glad coach gave me the opportunity to fill in,” Batista said of his first start in the back. “I’m excited to get the clean sheet but mostly glad we got the win, and that’s all that matters.”
Batista led the line as his team allowed just nine shots on the evening, including only one in the last 15 minutes when Santa Barbara was a man down, keeping out the visiting Anteaters long enough to hold on to the 1-0 victory.
The Gauchos enter the Northridge clash leading the Big West in almost every offensive category. Junior midfielder Kevin Feucht’s eight goals and senior midfielder Josue Espana’s seven assists are both conference-highs, and UCSB as a team ranks at the top in shots/assists as well. However, their 21 goals allowed are the second highest in the Big West Conference.
Both teams sit comfortable for the early days of conference, both with championship aspirations. While Santa Barbara’s players are feeling good about the past week of results, they think there’s still plenty to do before playoffs begin.
“We’re all pretty happy, but our job’s not done yet, so we’ve gotta keep working hard.” Batista said. “We feel confident in our ability to score, so our main goal right now is to get more clean sheets.”
In the sides’ all-time meetings, the Gauchos hold a 21-16-5 record versus Northridge and have won the last two matches. When they met last year, DePuy’s brace was the difference in UCSB’s 2-1 overtime victory.
“I don’t think we’ll have to do anything differently, just communicating a lot is pretty big and working together as a team,” Batista said. “If we do that, I think we’ll be fine.”
The Gauchos will play the Matadors tonight at Harder Stadium at 7:05 p.m. A video stream will be available on the schedule page of the men’s soccer team UCSBgauchos.com website and entrance is free with and ACCESS card. Follow @thenexus_sports for all things Gaucho soccer.