Sept. 1, 2004
This Week's Schedule:
No. 13 UC Santa Barbara at San Diego State
Wednesday, September 1 @ 4:00 p.m.
SDSU's Sports Deck
No. 13 UC Santa Barbara vs. Westmont
Saturday, September 4 @ 7:00 p.m.
UCSB's Harder Stadium
And the Whistle Blows
Ranked 13th in two preseason polls and 15th in two others, the UC Santa Barbara men's soccer team opens its season at San Diego State on Wednesday and returns to Santa Barbara on Saturday for its home opener against Westmont in Harder Stadium. And if the past two seasons are any indication the Gauchos should come out of the gates strong. Last season UCSB started the year at 7-0-1, one year after beginning the season with eight straight wins. In fact, over the past three seasons the Gauchos have played their first five games of the year to a combined 13-1-1 record.
San Diego State Game Capsule
UCSB 0-0-0 (Big West), SDSU 0-0-0 (MPSF)
UCSB last opened the season against SDSU in 1998, a match that the Gauchos lost 2-1 in overtime in Santa Barbara. Since that loss, which was also Tim Vom Steeg's first game at the helm of the Gaucho program, UCSB has posted a 4-0-1 record in its season openers with the lone tie coming last year at San Jose State.
Wednesday's match marks the return of UCSB's seventh longest series, now in its 29th installment. With the exception of last season, the Gauchos had faced San Diego State 12 consecutive years dating back to the 1991 season. The Aztecs hold the all-time series advantage at 18-7-3, but UCSB has posted a 2-0-1 record in the last three meetings.
UCSB has outscored its opponents by a 14-6 margin in its five seasons under Vom Steeg.
SDSU, who is coming off a 4-1 exhibition loss to No. 9 UCLA, returns 16 letterwinners and seven starters from last year's squad that finished fourth in the MPSF. Junior forward Heath Creager returns after leading the Aztecs in scoring in 2003 with seven goals and two assists.
Westmont Game Capsule
UCSB 0-0-0 (Big West), Westmont 0-0-0 (GSAC)
Like clockwork, Bryant & Sons Cup featuring crosstown rivals UCSB and Westmont College returns to Harder Stadium for its 42nd installment. The Gauchos have owned the series for the past three years, outscoring the Warriors by a combined 8-2 margin since the 2001 season, but it is Westmont who claims the all-time series at 23-14-4.
Always an event in the Santa Barbara soccer community, the annual showdown has drawn over 1,100 fans every year since attendance records have been kept as an official statistic (2000). With a high of 1,925 fans in 2001, over the past four years the crowd in Harder Stadium for the Cup has been on average 1,524 people strong.
As its home opener, when UCSB faces Westmont they will have tradition on their side. Having lost just one game in Harder Stadium over the course of the past three seasons, the Gauchos have been dominate on their home pitch. Dating back to the 1999 season the Gauchos are a perfect 5-0 when they grace Harder Stadium for the first time on the year, outscoring their opponents by a whopping 17-1 margin.
A Class Above the Rest
As it enters its final year, UC Santa Barbara's senior class has already cemented its place in UCSB soccer history. The 2004 class of Jon Apilado, Matt Bly, Neil Jones, Dan Kennedy, Tony Lochhead and Drew McAthy helped usher in a new era of Gaucho soccer and it has been instrumental in a litany of success: two NCAA Tournament berths, two NCAA shutout wins in the NCAA Tournament, a Sweet 16 appearance, two season-ending top-20 national rankings, two Big West Championships, a 45-13-2 overall record, and 11 All-Big West awards. Suffice to say this group has proven itself on the national and regional stage. Led by the trio of Kennedy, Lochhead, and McAthy, three of only four players in school history to earn all-conference honors three times, this year's seniors have appeared in, on average, 57 games each in their careers. With over 75 percent of their appearances coming as starters, they give head coach Tim Vom Steeg an experienced core of who have been an integral part UCSB's success.
The Gauchos start the season with their highest preseason ranking in school history, 13th by College Soccer News and Soccer America, and 15th by the NSCAA and Soccer Times. If it hopes to compete for a first-ever NCAA National Championship, the key to this year's success will be the team's ability to find a new chemistry on the field. Unlike in seasons past, more than half of UCSB's roster in 2004 is made up of newcomers. Ranked ninth in the country by both Soccer America and College Soccer News, this year's recruiting class will be looked at to fill the void in the Gauchos' midfield left by the departure of Memo Arzate and David McGill.
On the Attack
Offensively UCSB has an increased array of scoring threats thanks to some off-season additions and the return of All-Big West forwards McAthy and Jones who finished one-two in the conference's 2003 scoring race. Complimenting one of 2003's top one-two punches will be junior transfer Jonathan Davis and freshman Andrew Proctor who will add a great deal of speed to the Gaucho attack. On the outside, UCSB returns one of the conference's top reserves in Matt Bly and junior Bryan Byrne gives the Gauchos a tremendous amount of speed coming from both sides of the field. Junior college All-American Ivan Becerra has an excellent left foot to go with his size but is not expected to make the trip to San Diego.
The Creamy Filling
The greatest competition for playing time will come in the middle of the field, which will primarily be manned by newcomers. Redshirt junior Efren Mata will be expected to take the early lead in directing Santa Barbara's attack. The fact that Mata has spent one season at UCSB probably gives him a leg-up on fellow Compton College transfer Tino Nunez. Nunez however, along with freshman Tyler Rosenlund, will undoubtedly be in the picture. Combined, the threesome will should make for a very deep and talented midfield.
The Great Wall of Santa Barbara
While the offensive side of the ball needs to have some pieces fit together this weekend, the defensive side is outstanding is business as usual. The return of three-year starters Lochhead and Apilado, along with sophomore Greg Curry who started 20 in 2003, UCSB has a core group of players with the valuable experience of playing together who last season allowed just 23 goals against. Junior Nate Boyden has regained his spot as the defensive midfielder after redshirting last season. Junior Pat Scott, along with freshmen Myles Davis and Andy Iro will help to back up a defensive the has consistently been the tops in the Big West.
Between the pipes is almost a non-issue, except for the fact that sophomore Kyle Reynish is back after redshirting last season. It is a non-issue because the Gauchos return the reigning Big West Goalkeeper of the Year in Dan Kennedy. Having only missed two games in his career, both due to red card suspensions, Kennedy has started every each and game he was eligible for since becoming a Gaucho. Entering his final season at UCSB, Kennedy already holds the school record for goalkeeper wins with 42, matches played with 61, and his career goals against average of 0.98 is lower than any other keeper in UCSB history. And if Reynish should get the call he has already proven to be as much of a rock between the pipes. As a freshman he appeared in seven matches without allowing a goal, posting a pair of wins.
What's On Tap
Next week UCSB travels to the University of Connecticut to take on the former National Champion Huskies and 2003 NCAA Tournament participant Seton Hall, both preseason Top 10 clubs.