By Mark Patton, Santa Barbara News-Press Senior Writer
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Reed McKenna remembers the exact moment he wanted to become a Gaucho. He was wearing a UCLA jersey at the time.
McKenna was also dodging tortillas and wondering if the thunder coming from the stands at UCSB's Harder Stadium two years ago was going to make his ear drums pop.
"There were something like 15,000 people here," McKenna said. "I fell in love with the place and with UCSB's program and with all the fans that were coming out.
"It was something that differentiated it from other programs, and it really drew me here."
But "Remember The Titans" is what those fans remembered when they got their first look at McKenna after his transfer from UCLA. His resemblance to the movie's beach-boy quarterback had them chanting "Sunshine" the first time they saw the speedy forward's long, blond hair waving goodbye to a defender.
"The guys will call me that a little, but not as much as the fans out here," McKenna said. "'Remember The Titans' is actually my favorite movie ever, so I'm not complaining.
"I don't mind getting compared to Ryan Gosling at all."
McKenna shows a lot of Sunshine's flash and dazzle on the soccer pitch. He led Rancho Bernardo High to the CIF-San Diego Section championship in March of 2011, accessorizing all that hair with a hat trick during the title match.
He was chosen by the CIF as its section Player of the Year, by ESPN RISE Magazine as a first-team All-American - and by UCLA as one of its top recruits.
But that blond hair never could get into the flow of the Bruins' style, and it was much the same story at UCSB last season. He didn't score his first goal for the Gauchos until Oct. 13, helping them beat UC Irvine, 2-1. He also had just one assist last year.
"Part of Reed's issue is that we've been playing with a three-back," UCSB coach Tim Vom Steeg said. "It's the same reason he had problems at UCLA. He's not a three-forward guy. He's an underneath forward.
"If you don't play in that shape, he just sort of goes away."
But Sunshine got the chance to come from underneath during Saturday's exhibition match against Westmont, the final tuneup before Friday's season opener at the College of Charleston. He scored the Gauchos' first goal in a 2-0 win after running into a through ball from sophomore Ismaila Jome.
"I saw one of the defenders step to him and the other one was ball-watching, and so I just ran behind his shoulder and he slipped me the ball," McKenna said.
The goalkeeper blocked his shot but McKenna converted the rebound. He also assisted UCSB's second goal.
"It's the fact that he's now 22 years old and a senior," Vom Steeg said. "We saw it all last year, Goff (Goffin Boyoko) and H (Achille Campion) both looked 29 on that field. It's four or five more years of soccer. It's 70 games later, just being around it.
"I'm not saying that we've built this around Reed, but we really feel like we have the midfield that can get it covered, and Reed has to reap benefits from that shape."
McKenna, one of only two seniors on UCSB's entire team, has heard all the hype about the Gauchos' highly rated freshman class. He once heard the same kind of talk about himself at UCLA and so he chose his words carefully when asked about UCSB's Remarkable Rookies.
"How should I say this?" he began. "Yeah, it's good to have good players to play with and compete against in practice.
"The more good players you have, it brings out the better in everyone. I think it's good for the team."
He also found out last year how difficult it is to be the new guy.
"It always takes a little while to transition," McKenna said. "It took me awhile to find my role on the team. But this year I definitely feel I can step up and push myself and be a staple on this team."
He didn't step up by just sitting around this summer, either, playing for the U23 team of Major League Soccer's Portland Timbers.
"It was a great experience," he said. "I put in a lot of work to make sure that I was ready for this season. It's my last one here and I want to make sure I leave everything I have on the field."
The first brilliant rays of Sunshine filtered through last Saturday. It could be the start of a beautiful sunset.
The fifteenth-ranked Gauchos open the 2014 regular season this weekend when they travel to the College of Charleston for the Aaron Olitsky Memorial Classic. For a recap of Saturday's 2-0 exhibition win over Westmont, click here.
UCSB Athletics unveiled an extensive men's soccer broadcast schedule on Tuesday including three nationally televised games and the most commercial radio broadcasts of any team in the NCAA. UCSB's entire broadcast schedule, including audio links and information, can be found here.
To purchase season tickets for UCSB men's soccer, or for additional information, please drop by the Athletics Ticket Office in the Intercollegiate Athletics Building on campus, call (805) 893-UCSB (8272) or online by clicking here.