For all the success Tim Vom Steeg has had as UCSB men’s soccer coach, he’s never won the Big West Conference Tournament title.
He’s had his share of regular-season titles, and he has a national championship from 2006 and was a national finalist in 2004.
But since the Big West went to its postseason tournament 10 years ago, the Gauchos have yet to hoist that trophy.
Vom Steeg hopes to change that beginning tonight, when UCSB, which is ranked No. 15 in the country, hosts Cal State Northridge in a Big West Tournament semifinal at Harder Stadium.
At 11-3-4, and 4-1-2 in conference, the Gauchos are the No. 2 seed in this year’s tournament.
“This team has already done some things this season, but now what’s out there are the big things,” Vom Steeg said. “I also know that for some inexplicable reason, the conference tournament really hasn’t been our friend.
“We’ve gone into the tournament normally having a really good conference season, but for some reason we’ve gone into the tournament and we haven’t played at the level that we played most of that year.”
This year has been one of Vom Steeg’s more challenging seasons given the fact the team was hit with an array of injuries at one point or another to key players in all three areas of the field.
In fact, the last time UCSB played Northridge —- which was a scoreless draw in Northridge on Oct. 26 —- the Gauchos were missing their entire front line with the exception of forward Will Baynham.
Tonight they have those players back, which is why Vom Steeg is extremely confident.
“We started out this year with high expectations, but I don’t think anyone foresaw the type of year we had to battle through,” UCSB’s 21st-year coach said. “That’s what we had to do. Literally, we took it game by game and continually tried to figure out which players were available on the night.
“We were fortunate this year to have 11 seniors, so, consequently, as we lost players, I wasn’t having to bring freshmen onto the field as much. I was able to bring on three- or four-year players, which helped us get through some really tough spots.”
UCSB enters tonight’s semifinal as healthy as it’s been in a while.
The only ones the Gauchos are missing from their opening-day roster are midfielder Mateo Restrepo-Mejia and left back Ignacio Tellechea. They are out with injuries, but could be back for next weekend’s Big West Conference Tournament championship match, if UCSB gets that far.
“If I’m excited about (tonight), it’s because I finally got a chance this week to see more of a healthy team,” Vom Steeg said.
UCSB is led in scoring by freshman Finn Ballard McBride.
The Australia native has nine goals, while his fellow countryman Will Baynham is next with six. UCSB has outscored its opponents, 35-18, through its 18 games so far this season. While the Gauchos have been able to find the back of the net on an average of almost two times a match, the Matadors take the field tonight with a forward Vom Steeg believes is the best in the conference.
Junior Daniel Trejo leads Northridge with nine goals. Senior Johnny Rodriguez is right behind him with eight. But it’s Trejo who concerns Vom Steeg the most.
“When you look at our conference and you ask, ‘Who has talent that could translate to the next level?’ Trejo is one of those players,” Vom Steeg said. “We did well against him the first time.
“I would also say that he’s similar to what’s happened to Northridge this season. When he was scoring early in the year, they were winning games. And then his scoring dropped off and they dropped off. Now he’s back to scoring and they’re back to winning.”
CSUN advanced to tonight’s semifinal match with a 3-2 upset win at UC Irvine in the quarterfinals on Wednesday.
UCSB, which has lost its first match in the Big West Tournament in each of the past three seasons, is looking to get back to the conference championship match for the first time since 2015. That season, the Gauchos advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, where they lost at Clemson, 3-2.
Kickoff tonight is set for 7 p.m.