Ninth-Ranked UCSB Faces No. 3 SMU and No. 28 New Mexico In Tournament Action This Weekend

Ninth-Ranked UCSB Faces No. 3 SMU and No. 28 New Mexico In Tournament Action This Weekend

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Sept. 11, 2007

The Schedule
Match No. 4
Friday, September 14, 2007
No. 9 UC Santa Barbara Gauchos vs. No. 3 SMU Mustangs
UNM Soccer Complex
Kickoff 5:00 p.m.

Match No. 5
Sunday, September 16, 2007
No. 9 UC Santa Barbara Gauchos at No. 28 University of New Mexico Lobos
UNM Soccer Complex Kickoff 3:00 p.m.

The Plot Thickens
• This weekend's Nike/Crescent Financial Solutions Invitational will be a critical test for UC Santa Barbara as the Gauchos square off with No. 3 SMU and No. 28 New Mexico in Albuquerque. UCSB will be facing its first ranked opponents of 2007 Friday and Sunday -- Gonzaga has since cracked the Top 25 after posting a win over the Gauchos Sept. 2 -- and will face a Mustang squad hungry for revenge after Santa Barbara handed them their first home loss of the season and knocked them out of the NCAA Tournament in 2006. UCSB played a total of 13 matches against ranked opponents in both regular and postseason play a year ago and posted an impressive record of 8-4-1 in those contests. With arguably the toughest stretch of their non-conference schedule ahead, the Gauchos need to play their best soccer this weekend and if they do, they will take a major step towards accomplishing their goal of securing a seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Scouting the Mustangs
• UC Santa Barbara opens the Nike/Crescent Financial Solutions Invitational Friday evening with one of its marquee match-ups of 2007. The Gauchos will square off with No. 3 SMU in a rematch of last season's NCAA Tournmanet Second Round contest. Friday's match marks the third meeting between the two programs, with UCSB holding a 2-0-0 advantage in the all-time series. The Gauchos defeated the top-ranked and third-seeded Mustangs 3-1 in Dallas, Tex. Nov. 15, handing SMU just its second loss of the 2006 season and first at home. Nick Perera, David Walker, and Eric Avila scored to lift the Gauchos to the huge upset victory.

• SMU enters Friday's match with a mark of 2-1-0 after routing No. 3 Virginia 3-1 and posting a 1-0 win over Georgetown at its own Mi Cocina Classic last weekend. The Mustangs return a total of 21 letterwinners and eight starters from last year's squad that finished with an overall record of 17-2-4 and won the Conference USA title at 5-1-2.

• Junior midfielder Bruno Guarda was named the C-USA Offensive Player of the Week after tallying a goal and two assists last weekend. He leads the team with two goals and two helpers. Sophomore defender Leon Cruz is second with three points on one goal and an assist, while senior goalkeeper Steve Sandbo has recorded five saves and allowed just two goals in over 246 minutes of play.

Scouting the Lobos
• After its showdown with SMU, UCSB will wrap up the weekend tournament against host New Mexico on Sunday. The Gauchos and Lobos have met eight times over the years and the all-time series is deadlocked at four wins apiece. Santa Barbara dominated the last meeting, recording a 6-3 victory at Harder Stadium in 2003 as Drew McAthy and Neil Jones each scored twice to lead the Gauchos to the squad's highest scoring output of the season by far.

• UNM enters play this weekend with an overall record of 2-2-0 after losing to Loyola Marymount 1-0 Friday before bouncing back with a 1-0 victory over Cincinatti two days later. The Lobos, who are ranked No. 28 in this week's College Soccer News Top 30, will face No. 24 Washington in their first match of the Nike/Crescent Financial Solutions Invite Friday night. New Mexico returns 13 letterwinners and nine starters from its 2006 team that finished 14-4-3 overall and won the MPSF with an 8-1-1 mark.

• Senior midfielder Diego Barrera is one of five players to have found the net for the Lobos this season and leads the squad with one goal and two assists. Senior keeper Mike Graczyk has recorded a 1.25 goals against average with eight saves through four games.

UCSB Picks Up First Win of 2007
After playing 90 minutes with several missed opportunities in a 1-0 loss to Gonzaga Sept. 2, UCSB wanted nothing more than to come out and get on the board early Friday against a Wisconsin-Milwaukee team that had played much better than its 0-2 record coming into the match suggested. The Gauchos did just that, taking a 1-0 lead when Chris Pontius punched in the rebound off a corner kick for what became the game-winner just 3:21 into the match. Alfonso Motagalvan controlled Ciaran O'Brien's corner and took the first shot in the scoring sequence to record his first-career assist. Tino Nuñez scored Santa Barbara's second goal of the match in the 19th minute, collecting a feed from Eric Avila and sending it home for the final 2-0 margin. From there the Gaucho defense took over and held the Panthers without a shot in the first half. UCSB posted a 13-7 shot advantage for the game and held a 6-3 edge in corner kicks. With its first win of the season, Santa Barbara improved to 1-1-1, while Milwaukee fell to 0-3-0.

The Rankings Game
After recording their first win of the season in their only match last week, the Gauchos pretty much maintained their position in the national polls this week. In the second NSCAA/adidas coaches poll of the regular season, UCSB slipped one spot from No. 13 to No. 14 heading into the Nike/Crescent Financial Solutions Invite. In the media polls, Santa Barbara stayed at No. 9 in the current College Soccer News Top 30, but climbed five spots from No. 18 to No. 13 in this week's Soccer America Top 25. Finally, after slipping 11 spots from No. 1 to No. 12 in the SoccerTimes Top 25 last week, the Gauchos held on to their No. 12 nod after the 2007 season's second week of play. There is no question Santa Barbara will need a strong showing against No. 3 SMU and No. 28 New Mexico this weekend in order to crack back into the Top 10 and remain among the nation's elite.

Tournament Tested
With that said, there is good reason to believe UCSB will get the job done in New Mexico. Head coach Tim Vom Steeg's teams have traditionally performed very well in tournament play. Entering this weekend's Nike/Crescent Financial Solutions Invitational, the Gauchos own an impressive 13-2-1 record against regular season tournament competition over the last six years. Since 2001, UCSB has claimed six regular season tournament crowns, with the most recent being the 2004 UConn Huskie Classic and the UNM Lobo Invitational that same year. Last year Santa Barbara dismantled No. 7 Akron 5-0 at the University of Virginia Soccer Classic to open the season before falling to third-ranked and host Virginia 1-0. With impressive victories over Indiana and Columbia the last time the Gauchos played at the UNM Soccer Complex three years ago, its safe to say UCSB is comfortable playing in Albuquerque.

So, Who's Next?
One of the reasons Santa Barbara won the national championship last season was the roster featured a number of guys that could score. So far opponents haven't been able to focus on any one player this season either, as UCSB's four goals have been scored by four different players. Sophomore midfielder Ciaran O'Brien notched his first goal as a Gaucho and the team's first strike of 2007 in the second half against Stanford Aug. 31 and reigning College Cup Most Outstanding Offensive Player Nick Perera found the net roughly 20 minutes later. In last Friday's win over Wisconsin-Milwaukee, junior midfielder Chris Pontius punched in his first goal of the year in the fourth minute and Tino Nuñez got in the scoring column 15 minutes later. Both players scored just one goal apiece a year ago. With so many players that can score the ball, the Gaucho offense should continue to give opponents fits all season.

Defense Answers The Call
Playing without senior co-captain Greg Curry -- the team's emotional leader who missed Friday's match after suffering a knee injury against Gonzaga -- UCSB's defense responded and got the job done in his absence. The defending corps of three-time All American Andy Iro, freshman Michael Boxall, and Curry's younger brother Jon teamed with midfielders Alfonso Motagalvan and Brennan Tennelle to take Wisconsin-Milwaukee out of the game offensively. The Gauchos completely shut down the UWM offense in the first half, holding the Panthers without a shot in the opening period. In fact, Milwaukee's first shot of the match did not come until the 52nd minute and the defense held on for UCSB's first shutout of 2007. After recording a total of 12 shutouts during their national championship season in 2006, the Gauchos have depth on the defense that they have not had in several years and should continue to shut their opponents down this season as well, even with Curry sidelined. Junior Kyle Kaveny and freshman Martin Hedevag were very effective off the bench against the Panthers. Early indications suggest Curry will miss four to six weeks.

Setting The Table
Junior midfielder Eric Avila -- the Gauchos' leading scorer in 2006 -- has yet to find the net so far this season, but that doesn't mean he hasn't had an impact on the offesive end for Santa Barbara. The preseason All-American has registered two of UCSB's three assists and is tied with four other players for the team lead with two points. After connecting with Nick Perera for the Gauchos' second goal at Stanford, Avila used an ubelievable move to elude three defenders and found a streaking Nuñez to his right for the goal and the final 2-0 score in UCSB's win over Wisconsin-Milwaukee last Friday. An All-Big West First Team selection last season, Avila had a slow start in which he scored just two goals in the Gauchos' first 13 games, but went on to score a team-high eight to go with five assists during UCSB's championship season.

Nunez Happy To Finally Find The Net
Senior forward Tino Nuñez was extremely relieved to score his first goal of 2007 against Wisconsin-Milwaukee last week. The Long Beach, Calif. native caught up to a pass from Eric Avila in full stride and placed a shot in the top right corner of the net past the outstretched arms of Panther goalkeeper Grant Fernstrum to give the Gauchos a 2-0 lead at the 18:57 mark. Not only was it his first of the year, but Friday's goal was Nuñez' first since he scored in the ninth minute against Akron Aug. 25 of last year -- the season opener. Unlike last season, when Nuñez was not healthy for much of the year, he has started all three games so far in 2007 and is second on the team with eight shots.

Iro, Avila Named to Hermann Award Watch List
Senior defender Andy Iro and junior midfielder Eric Avila were recently named to the 2007 M.A.C. Hermann Trophy Watch List, marking the first time in program history that two Gauchos were selected for the prestigious list that will eventually determine the NCAA Division I Player of the Year. The defending national champions are one of only two schools in the nation that had multiple players named to the Watch List, joining senior goalkeeper Matt Allen and junior forward Byron Dacy of Creighton. UCSB has now had a total of four players named to the list after Iro received the honor in 2006 and former teammate Tyler Rosenlund was selected in 2005. The winner of the M.A.C.'s Hermann Trophy will be determined by a panel of NSCAA Division I member coaches. A list of 15 semifinalists will be announced in November, and three finalists will be named in early December in conjunction with the NCAA Division I College Cup. The final three will be invited to the Missouri Athletic Club on Friday, January 11, 2008 and the winner will be announced during a nationally-televised news conference that evening.