Emerging from the Harder Stadium tunnel to a raucous crowd was a brand-new experience for most of the UCSB men’s soccer team.
The cancellation of the 2020 season was especially harsh for the Gauchos, as they were expected to return with a talented group that had made it to the Final Eight of the NCAA tournament in 2019. To make matters worse, Harder Stadium was set to host the 2020 College Cup, and the Gauchos had a realistic chance of playing for the National Championship on their home turf.
After a potential season for the ages faded away, head coach Tim Vom Steeg and crew are focused on building toward another NCAA tournament run and took a step in the right direction with a 2-0 victory Saturday over Cal Poly in their final non-conference match.
“Realistically, the Big West is a one-bid conference,” Vom Steeg said. “Our goal is to do something that we haven’t done in a long time, which is winning a conference tournament, and the best way is to get two home playoff games and a bye.”
With many other Big West members struggling in non-conference play, the Gauchos will likely not be able to pick up enough signature wins to receive an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament. This means that the clearest path forward is via the automatic bid that is given to conference champions. The Gauchos have not won the Big West tournament since 2010.
“That’s what the league championship is about, besides a nice little trophy,” said Vom Steeg. “Nothing against tonight or anybody else, but that’s what we’ve been talking about.”
Depth figures to be a strength for UCSB this season, and that was certainly the case against Cal Poly as Jorge Aldana, Ameyawu Muntari, and Pablo Figueroa came off the bench and immediately made their mark breaking down the Mustang’s defense.
With unlimited substitutions in NCAA Division 1 soccer, the more options a coaching staff has off the bench, the better. “My ability to bring players off the bench was critical in tonight’s game, it was critical against Oregon State, and I think it will be critical to our success all season,” Vom Steeg said.
Defensively, the Gauchos are led by Stanford transfer Carson Vom Steeg, who is one of the coach’s three sons on the roster. UCSB was solid in the box in front of sophomore goalkeeper Leroy Zeller, who picked up his fourth clean sheet of the season, including the Westmont exhibition match.
UCSB was also solid defensively against a highly touted Oregon State squad in a match that ended in a 1-1 tie on Tuesday, September 21.
“Our defense played very well. I thought we did well to compete in the box. Leroy [Zeller] had a clean game in goal,” Vom Steeg said following the victory over Cal Poly. “All around, I am very pleased, and it’s fun to be back out here with lots of people.”
UCSB Women Search for Finishing Touch
Goals have been hard to come by for the UCSB women’s soccer team. The Gauchos have only scored seven in 11 matches thus far this season and will need to pick up the pace on the offensive end in order to make noise in the Big West Conference.
“Unfortunately, it’s the hardest part of the game, and that’s why the people that do it on a consistent basis get the big bucks,” said UCSB women’s coach Paul Stumpf following a 1-0 loss to Cal State Fullerton on Sunday afternoon. “The difference was they had one really good look at the goal and they finished it.”
The Gauchos won their Big West Conference opener against UC Riverside 2-1 on September 23 behind goals from Emma Vanderhyden and Shaye Douglas, but they failed to carry that momentum over into the match against Cal State Fullerton and fell to 1-1 in conference play.
UCSB will look to get back on track in a match at UC Davis on Thursday, September 30, beginning at 4 p.m.