Four should be the magic number on the minds of the Cal State Northridge men’s soccer squad going into tonight’s match at No. 4 UC Santa Barbara.
The Matadors’ goal all season has been to finish among the top four in the Big West Conference to qualify for the four-team playoff.
They have just four conference games remaining, two of which are winnable matches at home – the other two are against, arguably, the cream of the Big West crop.
And the way conference play has unfolded, it appears as though it is going to take a minimum of four wins to end up in fourth place. Northridge currently sits fifth at 2-3-1 in Big West play and 7-6-2 overall.
The Gauchos (11-3-1, 5-1 Big West) will be on high-alert when the Matadors come to Harder Stadium for their 7 p.m. match, thanks to the 1-0 defeat at Matador Field this season which knocked them from their then-No. 3 national ranking.
Northridge has not swept a season series against Santa Barbara since 2005, the last time it finished first in conference. The Gauchos – five-time Big West champs – are a team that knows how to defend their home field with a record of 6-1.
The two sides battled intensely in their first match and carried a scoreless tie for most of the game. But in the 77th minute, senior Robert Pate’s header off a corner kick propelled the Matadors to their second conference win. That impressive victory came on Oct. 18, but they have not been able to move from their two-win mark since.
Northridge will be without senior defender Chad Borak, who is unavailable today due to the red card he received in Saturday’s loss at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. The loss of Borak could be key, as he has been an integral part of the Matadors backline.
Senior Dylan Riley and redshirt freshman Joe Franco have been among the team’s best performers and will have the added pressure of compensating in the box on corners and set pieces, as well as containing the Gauchos vaunted attack.
The Matadors were successful in dictating the pace of the last game between the two and limited the Gauchos chances on-goal, taking 18 shots to UCSB’s nine. The Gauchos were left trying to counter the CSUN pressure, and for that, were shut out for the first and only time this season.
Northridge will surely be heading into hostile territory tonight, with a boisterous Santa Barbara student body that has very good attendance at its home games. If the Matadors see tortillas littered on the field that night, it might be an indication that it was another rough night on the pitch.
The Gaucho student body has a tradition of throwing tortillas on the field after each Santa Barbara goal. If the Matadors can come up huge once more tonight like their first match, the field will be tortilla-free.
After its 3-1 loss at Cal Poly, Northridge was dropped from the National Soccer Coaches Association of America’s top 10 rankings in the Far West Region. UCSB is ranked first.