Streaking Gauchos take on a desperate Northridge squad

When it comes to a competitive rivalries in men’s soccer in the Big West, UCSB-Cal State Northridge ranks near the top of the list.

The all-time series is close, with UCSB leading 17-14-5, and the schools have combined for eight of the last nine regular season conference championships (the Gauchos winning seven of them).

When the teams renew their rivalry on Saturday night at 7 o’clock at Harder Stadium, the 18th-ranked Gauchos will be facing a Northridge team that’s desperate for a victory. The Matadors are winless in their last five matches, but they remain in the hunt for a spot in the Big West Tournament. They sit in sixth place at 1-4-1 (4 points), five points behind Cal State Fullerton and UC Davis who are tied for third.

The top four teams in the standings qualify for the post-season tourney that determines the conference’s automatic NCAA berth.

UCSB, winners of six straight matches, is in first place with a 5-1-0 record (15 points) and UC Irvine is second at 4-0-1 (13 points).

Despite its lowly record (2-10-2), Northridge has played tough against some quality teams. It tied Washington 1-1 early in the season and lost a tight battle on Wednesday with No. 8-ranked UC Irvine, 2-1, giving up the deciding goal in the last seven minutes.

“We’ve played well in our last two games,” Northridge coach Terry Davila said after the Irvine loss. “We just got to figure out a way to win.”

Davila is fielding one his youngest teams in his 12 years at Northridge. He has only one senior on the roster and 16 freshman. The team’s leading goal scorer is freshman forward Sam Ball (3 goals) out of Westlake High.

The Matadors will be facing a UCSB squad that has found its groove — and the back of the net.

The Gauchos (9-3-2) have scored 15 goals in their last six matches, and the scoring is coming from all over the field. In last Wednesday’s 2-0 win at UC Davis, substitute midfielder Nic Ryan knocked in his first collegiate goal and it was the game-winner. On Sunday, defender Chris Hunter tallied his first Division 1 goal in a 4-3 win at UC Riverside.

Junior midfielder Danny Barrera scored game-winning goals against Duke and UC Riverside to earn National Player of the Week honors from the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.

Forward Sam Garza leads the team with six goals.

The Gauchos will be without Hunter on Saturday. He got a red card for a hard challenge near the end of the Davis match and is suspended for the match. Tim Pontius is expected to take his place in the middle of the defense.