Fresh off consecutive home victories over St. John’s and UC RIverside to kick off the season, the UCSB men’s soccer team will look to keep its momentum. The team will travel to face both Portland University and Seattle University this week.
The Gauchos were in full control during both of their opening week matches, displaying an attacking flair that was all too absent last season. Between the two games, Santa Barbara chipped in five goals, while only conceding once. Freshman striker Carter Clemmensen’s performance even earned him the Big West player of the week award, as he scored two goals during the week despite coming off of the bench in both matches. Junior transfer defender Faouzi Taieb also had a big first week for his new team, leading the side to a clean sheet in their first match before scoring a goal in the second match against the Highlanders.
But it wasn’t just the newcomers who led UCSB to success this past week. Sophomore Sahid Conteh continues to look comfortable commanding the midfield, pitching in a goal and two assists during the week, and perennial goal-scoring threat Rodney Michael also found the back of the net in the match against Riverside. So far, the new acquisitions and returning talent have gelled seamlessly, creating a much stronger side than the one from last season.
This week presents a whole new challenge to Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg and the Gauchos, however, as they must travel to the Pacific Northwest to take on two programs that are receiving votes in the top 25.
On Friday, UCSB will match up against a strong Portland side (1-0-1) that is led by Junior forward Benji Michel. After leading the team with 10 goals last season– as well as All-WCC first team honors, Michel scored first in both of the team’s matches this season, and should prove to be a handful for the Gauchos revamped backline to deal with. The Pilots, who lie just outside of the top-25 rankings, were picked to finish second in the WCC, and will be the Gauchos first true test of the season.
Things don’t get any easier for Santa Barbara after that; on Sunday, they must face off against No.22 Seattle(0-1-0), who in their first match of the season were upset by New Mexico 4-2. The Redhawks dominated possession in that match, but played the entirety of the second half a man down after receiving a red card in the beginning stages of the first half.
On paper, Seattle should prove to be one of the most difficult matches of the season for UCSB. The Redhawks returned many of their starters from last season’s team that made the NCAA tournament, including senior defender Nathan Aune. Aune was named the WAC defensive player of the year last season, as well as a second-team All-American, and is a shortlist candidate for the MAC HERMANN award. On the offensive side, Senior Forward Sergio Rivas was voted the preseason conference player of the year after chipping in eight goals and six assists last season. The dominance of both Rivas and Aune is a big reason why the Redhawks were voted preseason favorites to win the WAC this season.
While both matchups look intimidating–especially on the road– the Gauchos will be eager to prove that last season was a fluke– and that this past week was not.
UCSB will take on Portland Friday at 7 p.m., before travelling further up the coast and facing Seattle on Sunday at 6 p.m.