The "Big West's Biggest" Battle This Wednesday When No. 13 UCSB Heads to No. 14 CSUN
This Week's Schedule
Wednesday, November 2
No. 13 UC Santa Barbara (10-3-3, 5-0-2) at No. 14 Cal State Northridge (11-2-3, 6-0-1)
CSUN's Matador Soccer Field Kickoff 2:00 p.m.
Finding a Stride
UCSB went 2-0-0 last week, the first time it has done since week three, beginning with a 3-2 win at UC Davis in non-league play Wednesday, and followed up by a 2-0 conference win over Cal State Fullerton on Saturday. The Gauchos recorded a season high 27 shots against the Aggies, but it took until the second overtime period for Eric Avila to finally put away the game winner, as UCSB handed Davis its first home loss of the season. Santa Barbara picked up the program's 350th win on Saturday against the Titans behind Kyle Reynish's six saves and a goal each from Ivan Becerra and Chris Pontius. With the victories, the Gauchos improved to 10-3-3 overall and remained undefeated in league play at 5-0-2 in the Big West.
Anytime UC Santa Barbara and Cal State Northridge square off on the soccer pitch it is always one of the marquee matches of the season, and this year is no different as a Big West title is once again on the line. No. 13 UCSB will play its biggest game of the season thus far on Wednesday when they travel to take on the conference leading 14th-ranked Matadors. Although the Gauchos remain undefeated in league play at 5-0-2 (17 points), they enter this week's action in second place, currently two points behind CSUN (19 points), who has also yet to lose in league play at 6-0-1. After the two programs scraped and clawed to a 2-2 draw October 8th on CSTV, Wednesday's match will put the winner, if there is one, in the driver seat for the conference crown. A Santa Barbara October 14th tie with UC Irvine is all that separates the Gauchos and Matadors, but Santa Barbara must win Wednesday to control its own destiny at winning a fourth Big West title in five years. The BWC has come down to the Gauchos and Matadors every year since 2000, and 2005 has been no different. Needless to say, Wednesday's match is huge.
How They Rank
UCSB enters this week's action with a national ranking of 23 in the current NSCAA Coaches' poll, down one spot from last week's 22nd rank. After moving from the NSCAA Top 25 for the first time in three years in weeks two through four, Santa Barbara finds itself in the coaches' poll for the fifth consecutive week. The Gauchos jump-started their climb back into the NSCAA poll with a 3-1 victory over Cal Poly September 28th. After last week's victories, Santa Barbara climbed to No. 13 in the Soccer Times coaches' poll, up four spots from the 17th position they held a week ago. In the media polls, the Gauchos are ranked 15th by College Soccer News and 22nd in Soccer America. Santa Barbara is also 13th in the Top Drawer Soccer.com poll.
Cal State Northridge Game Capsule
UCSB faces conference-leading Cal State Northridge in its lone match this week on Wednesday, November 2nd. The all-time series between the two programs has been extremely close over the years, with the Gauchos leading by the slimmest of margins 11-10-4. In fact, in the last three meetings between them, they have split and, most recently tied. In their first meeting this season, the nationally televised match ended in a 2-2 deadlock at Harder Stadium. In 2004, the Matadors handed the Gauchos their first loss of the season 3-1 on October 16th in Northridge after then freshman defender Andy Iro received a red card midway through the second half to open the door for CSUN. However, UCSB avenged that loss, defeating the Matadors 2-1 one-month later in Santa Barbara.
14th-ranked Cal State Northridge enters Wednesday's match with an 11-2-3 overall record after victories over Cal Poly and UC Davis last week. The Matadors are currently riding a nine game unbeaten streak and have recorded three straight shutouts to remain unbeaten in conference at 6-0-1. Northridge has also wandered into new territory this week when it moved to No. 22 in the NSCAA coaches poll, one spot ahead of Santa Barbara, marking the first time the Matadors have done so since both cracked into the polls in 2002. CSUN has netted 28 goals this season to their opponents 15 and is averaging 1.68 goals per game. Matador Soccer Field has been a tough place for opponents to play this season, as Northridge posts a 7-1-1 home record.
All-Big West First Teamer Willie Sims directs the Matador offense and leads the team with eight goals, 18 points and 35 shots, but has not played since he went down against the Gauchos on October 8th. Freshman keeper Kevin Guppy has started every game between the pipes and comes into this week's match with a 0.91 goals against average and 49 saves. Senior midfielder Daniel Paladini has been a major contributor, as well, with five goals and three assists. Junior forward Ryan Rossi has picked up the slack in Sims' absence and was named last week's Big West Player of the Week after scoring two goals against UC Irvine, including the game-winner on a penalty kick in the 85th minute.
It's Not For No Reason
Despite residing in second place in the Big West Conference standings, the Gauchos find themselves leading the conference in a lot of ways, statistically. UCSB, who has not lost in league play, either leads or is in second place in 12 out of 13 Big West statistical categories. The Gauchos lead the conference in goals scored (34) and assists (31), giving them a commanding lead in the race for the conference scoring title with 99 points. Defensively UCSB has been stellar as well, leading the Big West in goals allowed with 14, goals against average (0.83) and shutouts (seven). In fact, the one category the team does not lead is saves, which is a testament to their solid defensive play.
With three games remaining on UCSB's regular season schedule, along conference contests, the Gauchos have fined-tuned their defense and are primed for a strong conference finish and postseason run. Head coach Tim Vom Steeg has tried a number of defensive lineups this season and has found a winning combination. For the second consecutive week the defensive lineup of seniors Chris Hughes, Pat Scott, and Nate Boyden, along with sophomore Andy Iro and junior goalkeeper Kyle Reynish, held the UCSB opposition in check. In the win at UC Davis, Santa Barbara held the Aggies to just three shots on goal. Three days later, they allowed five shots in the match against Fullerton and Reynish earned his seventh shutout of the season, and his third in the last five matches. Two weeks ago the Gaucho defense held then-ranked No. 11 UCLA to just two shots on goal and ten overall in a losing effort. In the last five matches Santa Barbara has allowed just 16 combined shots on goal.
Not In My Box
Prior to the 2005 campaign, UCSB did not allow a single goal on a set piece for an impressive three consecutive years. This year, Gaucho opponents have netted five goals on either corner, free, or penalty kicks in the absence of All-American keeper Dan Kennedy, but junior Kyle Reynish has shown lately that he can control his box as well. Reynish quelled Fullerton's two best scoring opportunities Saturday, making aggressive saves on two Titan breakaways. In fact, the Gaucho keeper has stopped eight of the last nine breakaways he's been faced with. Overall, the Santa Barbara defense has allowed just nine goals in the run of play this season.
While the team has only recently been able to iron out some of the kinks defensively, the Gaucho offense has been clicking for quite some time now. Since the first three games of the season, UCSB has scored 32 goals, including seven in their last three contests. Santa Barbara has out-shot 12 of its 16 opponents this season, tallying 254 shots overall to their opponent's 153. The team recorded a season-high 27 shots last Wednesday at UC Davis, including a team individual season-high by defender Andy Iro. The Gauchos all-around play has produced a conference-best +1.19 scoring margin in 2005 and they have 31 assists, compared to only 11 for the opposition. Santa Barbara's offensive prowess also stands up to the Big West competition, as they lead the conference in scoring (56), goals per game (2.71) and assists per game (2.57). In all, the Gauchos lead the conference in all six team-statistical offensive categories.
Guess Who's Back
After missing time due to an injury suffered a little less than a month ago against Northridge, senior forward Ivan Becerra returned to action in full form against Cal Poly last week, netting his first goal since October 5th. Becerra scored what proved to be the game winner Saturday against Fullerton when he finished off a through ball from Eric Avila, hammering it past the Titan keeper in the 48th minute of the match. The goal was his conference-high tenth of the season and the Los Angeles native is now just one goal away from breaking into the school's single season top ten list. The Big West's leading scorer definitely has made his mark this season, producing a stretch in which he scored a pair of goals in four out of five matches beginning with the match against UC Riverside in week three. Becerra has also recorded two assists this season giving him 22 total points and first place in the race for the conference scoring title. He was also named to the Top Drawer Soccer.com National Team this week for his efforts in Santa Barbara's two wins last week.
Avi's Bringin' His A-Game
Freshman midfielder Eric Avila continued to live up to expectations and has solidified his position as a critical member of the Gaucho offense. In last week's action, Avila recorded the game-winning goal against Davis and an tallied the game-winning assist against Fullerton. The San Diego native scored the golden-goal, the Gauchos' first this season, on Wednesday in the 110th minute of play when he sent a rocket past the Davis keeper from 30 yards out to give them the 3-2 victory. Saturday, Avila connected with Becerra for his team-best fifth assist in the 48th minute, delivering a perfect ball that allowed Beccera to find the back of the net for the Gauchos' 10th win of the season. For his performance in UCSB's last two contests, Avila was named the Big West Conference Co-Player of the Week and also named to the College Soccer News National Team of the Week for the week ending October 30th. The U.S. Under-17 National Team standout is currently third on the team with 14 points, three goals and five assists.
Senior midfielder and team co-captain Bryan Byrne continued to have a hot foot and saw his name show up in the scoring column this past week yet again. Byrne netted the Gauchos' second goal of the game Wednesday at UC Davis when he received the ball out on the right flank, beat his defender and ripped a 15-yard blast past the Davis keeper in the 45th minute to knot the game at one. In the last eight games, the Irishman has tallied three goals and three assists to go with his 21 shots. He is second on the team with five goals and 14 points. His four assists are tied with two others for second on the squad.
Big Time Charlie
Preseason All-American Andy Iro had another impressive showing last week. Against the Aggies, the sophomore defender helped lead a defense that held UC Davis to just three shots on goal, less than a week after limiting No. 11 UCLA to just two shots on goal. Offensively, Iro stepped up as well, recording a career-high ten shots and netting his second game-tying goal in as many games when he put in a rebound off a free kick in the 72nd minute. The goal was Iro's fourth of the season, which ranks third on the team, matching his total from 2004. The 2004 Big West Freshman of the Year also has two assists, giving him ten total points on the year
Making a Name for Himself
Junior goalkeeper Kyle Reynish has been getting the job done all season long between the pipes, and he has really come one as of late. He has played all 1517 minutes for the Gauchos in 2005 and has 51 saves for a .785 save percentage, which is first in the Big West, while his 0.83 goals against average is also tops in the conference. In the match-up with the Titans, the Valencia, Calif. native recorded six saves, he second highest total of his career, and earned his third shutout in the last five games. He leads the conference with seven total shutouts on the season, which ranks as the eighth-best season ever for a UCSB keeper. Finally, Reynish has held the opposition to one goal or less in 11 of UCSB's 16 matches.
Hermann Trophy Watch
Sophomore Hermann Trophy Candidate Tyler Rosenlund continued to start this week, getting the nod in both contests after returning to the starting lineup a week ago since missing significant time due to an injury he suffered against Cal Poly. Rosenlund played significant minutes in both of UCSB's matches helping facilitate the Gauchos' offense and creating a number of quality scoring opportunities against the Aggies and Titans. The Canadian Youth National Team star is now fifth on the team with eight points off two goals and four assists. His four assists are tied for second on the