SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The Sacramento State men's soccer team (2-5-3, 0-2-0 Big West) plays its first road conference matches of the season this weekend, facing UC Riverside (5-4-2, 0-2-0 Big West) at 7 p.m. Friday and Cal State Fullerton (4-6-0, 1-1-0 Big West) at 3 p.m. Sunday.
The Hornets will play five of their next six matches on the road, playing only one home match over a month's time next Saturday, but the team has fared well on the road with a 2-2-1 record away from Sacramento this season.
After a disappointing opening weekend of conference play with a pair of losses on its home turf last week, Sacramento State looks to rebound in its final two interdivision Big West matchups.
"We have eight games left of Big West play so we just need to keep our spirit up," senior midfielder and team captain Almog Strikowski said. "Anything can happen in the next eight games. Being the captain, along with the rest of the seniors, we need to keep up he confidence of the team and keep practicing hard and hopefully we will get results."
Strikowski, who missed half of last season due to injury, tallied his first goal since 2011 on Sunday against No. 25 UC Irvine. His goal gave the Hornets a lead they maintained into the 62nd minute before the Anteaters were able to tie the match and then win it in the 89th minute.
"I felt like somebody had to step up and I'm glad that I was able to finish a goal," Strikowski said. "Even though I scored it was still disappointing that we ended up losing. Over the next eight games the seniors and everyone else have to step up and scores as many goals as we can."
Scoring has been at a premium for the Hornets, who have tallied just six goals in 10 matches this season. Five different players have scored goals, however, with junior Chimdum Mez leading the team with two goals and three assists, including a helper on Strikowski's goal on Sunday.
Despite its scoring troubles Sacramento State has been competitive in nearly every match this season, due in large part to the outstanding play of goalkeeper Cesar Castillo. The senior leads the Big West by a wide margin and is tied for third in all of NCAA Division-I with 62 saves this season. With a season average of 6.2 saves per game, Castillo is on pace to break the program's single-season saves record of 109 set by former Hornet goalkeeper and current assistant coach Matt McDougall in 2004.
UC Riverside opened the season at 4-0 and was 5-0-2 through its first seven matches, earning a national ranking as high as No. 19 in the country. The Highlanders have dropped four consecutive matches since then, including Big West losses to Cal Poly and UC Santa Barbara, and have been outscored 12-1 during the stretch. The Hornets are 3-2-3 all-time against the Highlanders but are 0-1-2 in Riverside.
The recent play of Cal State Fullerton is on the opposite end of the spectrum, as the Titans have won three of their last four contests after starting the season 1-5-0. The Titans rank last in the Big West with a 1.65 goals against average for the season and have been outscored 17-13 so far this year despite scoring first in seven of 10 matches. Sacramento State scored its first all-time win over Cal State Fullerton with a 2-1 result last season after the Titans had won the first four matches between the teams.