The Big West finale comes down to the anticipated battle between the UC Irvine Anteaters (14-6) and the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos (15-3-2) taking place at Harder Stadium in Santa Barbara, Ca at 7 pm on Saturday night, November 14th.
What’s at stake?
The Conference Championship and a direct berth into the NCAA tournament. Brackets will be announced on Monday at 2:30 Eastern Time on ESPN News Channel. The winner here will likely get a high seed and a 1st round bye in the tournament. The loser? An extra game to play in tournament 1st round.
This will be the 3rd time these team square off this season. In the previous two meetings the Gauchos came away 1-0 winners. The teams also played for the Championship in last years inaugural Big West Tournament with UCI winning 4-2. UCSB returns 6 starters from that game. UCI has 5 survivors.
Latest Team News and Results
UCSB, ranked #4 in the nation in the NSCAA Adidas Poll has been on a roll cruising through the Big West Conference schedule. They are 10-1-1 in their last 12 games with 17 goals scored and only 1 conceded. Two of those victories were narrow 1-0 wins against the Anteaters.
UCI, ranked #27 in the NSCAA Adidas Poll has had peaks and valleys in Big West Conference play. They suffered a humiliating 3-0 defeat a week ago at home to CSUN which cost them home field advantage in their semifinal game vs Cal Poly SLO. Over their last 10 games they have gone 8-2 with 20 goals scored and 11 goals against.
Line Ups and Tactics
UCSB has utilized a rare strategy in modern day soccer this season when facing UCI. Man marking UCI senior All American Irving Garcia. Throw the traditional 3-5-2 out the window when the Gauchos line up tomorrow night. You will see #10 Michael David follow Garcia all over the field virtually turning the contest into a 10 v 10 match-up. Take note of this and follow it in detail. When UCSB has possession, David just tracks Garcia. He has NO IMPACT ON THE THE GAME OFFENSIVELY.
Tim Vom Steeg’s strategy has been successful so far in eliminating Garcia from the game and winning both games with 1-0 scorelines. So look for UCSB to be lined up in a 3-4-2 + David vs the Anteaters.
The Gauchos have shown the Eaters a ton of respect in both contests this season. I say this because of the obvious man marking scheme and because they have played 4 players in the back line in both games. Will Tettah line up at left back again this time around?
What sets UCSB apart from all of their conference foes is that player for player they are vastly superior. They have players that have international quality and experience. Silva, Barrera, David, Tettah, and Ibrahim are extremely polyfunctional and adapt well to several tactical systems.
When UCSB gets the ball they will try to use the pace their attacking players possess to get behind UCI’s back-line. Nonni is the best forward in the conference at making diagonal runs behind a defense. Combine that with the Anteaters lack of pace in the back and it spells trouble. Can Barrera and Silva provide enough service to take advantage of that match-up? Lastly, the Gauchos have great set piece offense. Hedevag, Silva, and Boxall are a hand full in the air.
Probable Lineup: Hayden, McGlynn, Boxall, Hedevag, Tettah, Walker, David, Silva, Barrera, Ibrahim, Nonni
UCI will come into the game confident since historically it is very difficult to defeat and an opponent 3 times in the same season. They also know that they have controlled the run of play in both contests and the 1-0 score lines are not indicative of the run of play on the field. Having attended both games I can clearly say UCI deserved much more in both games.
Tactically, coach Kuntz needs to have an answer for Garcia being man marked. You cannot afford for your best player to be erased from the field without exploiting the space left by the opposition in wasting a player for that task. Thompson, Aguilar, and Prieto really need to step up and perform at a high level if the Eaters are to knock off the Gauchos and repeat as Big West Champions.
UCI has received a big boost with the return of Goal Keeper Andrew Fontein to the line up. He missed the entire regular season with an injury but came back just in time for the postseason. Fontein had an incredible save on a 40 yard bomb in the Cal Poly game that would have ended UCI’s season.
The back line has been shuffled all season and has done ok for the most part. They will have to be very focused to deal with Nonni and Walkers pace. The midfield will be crowded to start the game with a double defensive mid scheme involving both Bailey and Reyes. Prieto and Aguilar will likely start on the wide positions, with Garcia in a free role behind the striker Thompson. Look for UCI to start off in a 4-5-1 and move into a 4-4-2 when the game settles down.
Probable Lineup: Fontein, Santora, Attaway, Shuffle, Turner, Aguilar, Reyes, Bailey, Prieto, Garcia, Thompson
Prediction: UC Irvine will have to survive the initial 20 minutes of the game and energy UCSB will bring with home field advantage. Both teams are loaded with match-winning talent that can throw tactical schemes out the window. Can Garcia be effective being man marked? Will Aguilar-Prieto duo outshine Silva-Barrera? Will Nonni and Walkers pace be too much for UCI back-line? When all is said and done, a set piece can be the difference here. I am going on a limb and saying this game is going to penalty kicks with UCI retaining their conference title.
Final Score 1-1 UCI 4-3 on pks