UCSB Prepares To Host Northwestern in NCAA Tournament Quarterfinal Saturday

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Nov. 24, 2006

The Schedule
NCAA Tournament Quarterfinal
Saturday, November 25, 2006
No. 17 UC Santa Barbara (15-7-0) vs Northwestern (14-7-0)
Harder Stadium • Kickoff 7:00 p.m.
***Match will air live on KCSB 91.9 in Santa Barbara***

A Member of the Elite Once Again
The UC Santa Barbara men's soccer team continued its postseason run last Saturday with a 2-1 win at unseeded Old Dominion University in the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16. Despite being out-shot 15-11 and facing two penalty kicks, the Gauchos battled a disciplined, organized Monarch squad and won a match in which they did not play exceptionally well. For the second straight game, Nick Perera gave UCSB an early first half lead with a goal on the first shot of the match. Chris Pontius won a header at the top of the box and the ball came out for Perera, who fired from roughly 14 yards out to the left post at the 6:11 mark. Although they had a 1-0 lead, the Gauchos were out-played for most of the opening period following the goal and only managed four shots. ODU tied the game in the 56th minute when defender David Horst was fouled in the box during a corner kick. Forward Ross Mackenzie was elected to take the penalty shot and placed a rising ball to the left inside post beyond the reach of goalkeeper Kyle Reynish. The Monarchs were whistled for a foul in the box less than five minutes later when Pontius raced to track down a ball and was taken to the ground. Eric Avila stepped in to take the kick for UCSB and put home the rebound for the final 2-1 advantage after the Old Dominion keeper guessed right on the initial shot diving to his right. The referee called yet another penalty kick in the 86th minute, giving Old Dominion the opportunity to tie the game. Mackenzie was called upon again, only this time Reynish was there, making a diving save to his right to preserve the win for the Gauchos. He finished with seven saves in UCSB's eighth victory in the last nine games. With the win, Santa Barbara returns to the Elite Eight for the second time in program history after advancing to the national championship match in 2004. The Gauchos enter Saturday's quarterfinal against Northwestern with a 15-7 overall record.

Scouting the Wildcats
• After two games on the road in four days last week, UCSB returns home to Harder Stadium to take on Northwestern in an NCAA Tournament Elite Eight match-up. Saturday's contest will mark the second meeting between the two programs. The Gauchos defeated the Wildcats 6-1 last season at the UNLV Adidas Classic in Las Vegas. Jonathan Davis and Tyler Rosenlund had a pair of goals each, while Nate Boyden and Chris Pontius also found the net in the convincing victory.

• Northwesterm advances to the NCAA Quarterfinal Round for the first time in program history after defeating unseeded UNC Greensboro 1-0 at home in the round of 16. An at-large selection into this year's tournament field out of the Big Ten Conference, the Wildcats knocked off Virginia Tech 3-0 in the first round and posted a 1-0 win over Saint Louis in the second. First team All-Big Ten selection David Roth leads NU offensively, with eight goals and five assists, while two-time all-league first teamer Brad North found the net eight times as well, and dished out two assists in 2006. Mark Blades, a member of the All-Big Ten freshman team, anchors a backline that has given up just 19 goals in 21 games this season. Sophomore keeper Will Briley has started 16 games and owns a 1.02 goals against average, 49 saves and five shutouts. A win over the Gauchos on Saturday would give Northwestern 15 wins this season, a new school record. The Wildcats are 14-7-0 overall in 2006 and 6-6 on the road.

2006 Regualar Season Review
After losing in the second round of the NCAA Tournament a year ago, the Gauchos were not a exactly a favorite to return to the College Cup in 2006. Starting the season with a No. 23 NSCAA preseason ranking, UCSB opened with a bang embarrassing then-ranked No. 7 Akron 5-0, only to fall to No. 3 Virginia 1-0 two days later in the UVa Soccer Classic title game. From there Santa Barbara won four of its next five, with the only defeat coming to No. 18 Illinois at Chicago on a fluke goal with overtime just 31 seconds away. The Gauchos opened Big West Conference play with a 2-1 double overtime victory over Cal State Fullerton September 21, but then hit a rough stretch in which they dropped three of four, including a 5-0 blunder at BWC rival Cal State Northridge and a 3-1 defeat to then-No. 7 UCLA in front of a record crowd of 5,475 at Harder Stadium in the Fox Soccer Channel's Match of the Week. UCSB bounced back with an impressive 2-0 win over No. 15 UC Irvine to move into first place in the league standings, but lost to UC Riverside for the first time in 32 years October 11. That loss would prove to be the Gauchos' wake up call, as they won five of their final six--including their first victory over the Matadors since November of 2004--to claim the Big West Conference title. Four of Santa Barbara's seven losses came to squads that were ranked in the NSCAA Top 25 at the time, with five of them coming to teams in the extremely strong Far West Region.

Its Quarterfinal Time: Part II
UCSB's Harder Stadium will be the site of a second NCAA Tournament Elite Eight match in the last three years Saturday. After the Gauchos spent a total of seven weeks with a No. 1 national ranking in 2004, they advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time in program history. Exceeding all attendance expectations, a school-record 11,215 fans packed Harder and witnessed Santa Barbara's 4-1 victory over 22nd-ranked Virginia Commonwealth. In addition to being the largest non-football crowd in the UCSB annals, the contest marked the highest-attended NCAA Division I Men's Soccer Tournament game prior to the College Cup--ever. Overall, the boisterous crowd of 11,215 ranked 26th all-time in Division I men's soccer history. No Big West Conference school has hosted more fans for an athletic event since.

UCSB vs. The Big Ten
The Gauchos hold a 6-2 all-time record against teams from the Big Ten Conference, recording a victory over a Big Ten squad in each of the last three seasons. In September of 2004, UCSB defeated top-ranked Indiana 1-0 at the University New Mexico adidas/Crescent Financial Solutions Invitational before the two programs met again in the national championship match in Carson, Calif. later that year (IU won 3-2 in a shoot-out). Last season, the Gauchos posted a 6-1 convincing victory over Sunday's opponent, Northwestern at the UNLV adidas Classic September 9. Lastly, Jon Curry scored a goal in the 104th minute of double overtime, lifting Santa Barbara to a 1-0 victory over Michigan in front of 3,577 fans at Harder Stadium September 30 of this year.

Poll Position
After winning the Big West crown November 4, UCSB is making its postseason run with a national ranking of No. 17, coming in the final Soccer America poll of the regular season. The Gauchos returned to the Top 25 following a month-long absence. Santa Barbara appeared in the final College Soccer News Top 30, after winning five of its final six games and was ranked No. 27 in the final poll. The Gauchos, who have been ranked as high as No. 7 in 2006, were not ranked in the final NSCAA/adidas or Soccer Times coaches poll.

With the UCSB men's soccer team one win away from a second trip to the College Cup in the last three years, it has been head coach Tim Vom Steeg's defense that has been a constant all season. Posting a total of 11 shutouts in 2006, fourth in Division I, and averaging one every two games, the defensive unit of Jeff Murphy, Andy Iro, Greg Curry, Brennan Tennelle, and goalkeeper Kyle Reynish, has been getting it done all season. Currently sporting a combined 0.85 goals against average, UCSB's stellar defense has given up just 19 goals in 22 contests, a total that ranks 10th in program history. In fact, the Gauchos held their opponents scoreless in five of their last six regular season games--all of which were victories. While UCSB has given up a goal in all three of its postseason wins this year, the Gauchos have held the opposition to one goal or less in 10 of its last 11 matches and, although it has been impressive all year, the Big West Conference's top-ranked defense has not been without its trials and tribulations this season. After starting every game during the regular season, Murphy was held out of Santa Barbara's NCAA Tournament first round contest against San Diego State two weeks ago, a last minute scratch with a leg injury. The senior defender also missed the Gauchos' matches at No. 1 SMU and Old Dominion, but Curry and Tennelle were tremendous in his absence, helping limit two quality opponents to one goal apiece.

Two, Please
While the defense has never been an issue this year, the Gaucho offense has finally found its rhythm and it couldn not have come at a better time. UCSB has scored seven goals in three postseason contests so far--including three at No. 1 SMU November 15--for an average of 2.33 goals per game. That number is up from the 1.32 goals per game average the Gauchos held during the regular season after scoring 25 goals in 19 matches. After scoring one goal or less in 13 games during the regular season, Santa Barbara has now found the net at least twice in four straight. UCSB is a perfect 9-0 in matches in which they score two or more goals in 2006.

Racking Up the Ws
Last week's 2-1 third round victory over Old Dominion was the Gauchos' eighth win in their last nine games and season-high fourth straight. After losing three of four from September 23 through October 5, UCSB has bounced back to win every game over the last five weeks, with the exception of a 2-0 loss at UC Irvine November 1. Santa Barbara's current four-game winning streak--the second this season--came against teams with a combined 45-26-12 record and the Gauchos have out-scored their last four opponents 11-3 to improve to a season-best eight games over the .500 mark at 15-7-0 overall. The streak of four consecutive victories matches the Gauchos' season-high from a year ago, when they won four-straight from September 9-23.

Peaking At the Right Time
It is no coincidence that the Gauchos turned the corner offensively this season right about the time All-Big West First Team selection Eric Avila found his stride at the offensive end of the field. Over the last five weeks--a span in which UCSB has won eight of nine matches--the Gauchos have scored a total of 16 goals and Avila has put in five of them. He has been especially hot lately, with four of his team-leading seven goals coming in the last six games. The sophomore midfielder was brilliant against top-ranked SMU, finding Perera in the box for Santa Barbara's first goal at the 31:38 mark, before scoring in the 76th minute to give the Gauchos a commanding 3-1 lead. He followed that performance with another tremendous showing three days later at Old Dominion. The San Diego native was elected to take the shot when UCSB was awarded a penalty kick in the 61st minute and, after the keeper guessed right on his initial offering, put in the rebound for the final 2-1 advantage. In addition to leading the Gauchos in goals scored in 2006, Avila has recorded a team-high 57 shots and 18 total points this season. One of only two players to start every game in 2006, UCSB is 6-0 when Avila shows up in the scoring column.

Striking Distance
Sophomore forward Nick Perera has been very impressive up front and has helped carry the load offensively throughout the postseason. The Gauchos have scored seven goals in three NCAA Tournament contests this year and Perera has put in two, both coming in the last two games. The native of Madrid, Spain scored the first goal of the match at No. 3 seed Southern Methodist in the 32nd minute last week and then gave UCSB an early lead in the seventh minute on the game's first shot at Old Dominion three days later. The forward is second on the squad with six goals this season and two of those were game-winners. He is also second with a total 39 shots in 2006, with 23 of those coming on frame. Perera has tallied three assists, including one that came on the game-winner in Santa Barbara's 2-1 come-from-behind win over San Diego State in the first round.

He's A Keeper!
Senior goalkeeper Kyle Reynish has been the man all season between the posts and has been absolutely brilliant, playing every one of a possible 2,000 plus minutes. The Valencia, Calif. native held UCSB's opponents scoreless six times in the final eight games of the regular season and has recorded a total of 11 shutouts in 2006, a career-high. The Big West Conference Co-Goalkeeper of the Year, Reynish has stepped up his game in the postseason, starting with five saves against SDSU in the NCAA Tournament First Round, including three very early on. In the win over the Mustang's, he needed only three stops to help lead the Gauchos' to their biggest victory in two years. Lastly, he had one of the best performances of his career in the Sweet 16, recording a postseason career-high seven saves--including stopping a second penalty kick that would have tied the game--to preserve the 2-1 victory over the Monarchs. Reynish ranked among the Big West's top-two keeper's in virtually every statistical category all season and enters Saturday's match against Northwestern with a goals against average of 0.85, 89 saves, and save percentage of .824. There is no doubt that the Gauchos will be sorry to lose the senior keeper when the season comes to a close.

UCSB Collects Nine Conference Awards
When the annual all-conference teams and awards were announced Tuesday, November 7, the Gauchos were once again one of the Big West's most decorated squads. Highlighted by junior Andy Iro's second consecutive Defender of the Year award and senior Kyle Reynish's Co-Goalkeeper of the Year honors, a total of seven players were named to all-conference squads. In addition to Iro and Reynish, midfielders Bryan Byrne and Eric Avila were named to the first team, while midfielder Eric Frimpong, defender Jeff Murphy, and forward Bongomin Otii garnered second team accolades.

Our Time Of Year
This year's appearance marks the fifth consecutive time the Gauchos have advanced the Big Dance. After last Saturday's 2-1 win over unseeded Old Dominion, UCSB is a combined 10-4-0 in NCAA Tournament play dating back to 2002, the first year it qualified for the postseason. With a .714 overall winning percentage in the playoffs, five of Santa Barbara's 10 wins have come in tournament openers. In fact, UCSB has been perfect under head coach Tim Vom Steeg, posting a 5-0-0 mark in opening (first or second) rounds of the tourney. The Gauchos topped San Diego 2-0 in the first round in 2002, downed Cal 2-0 in the second round of 2003 and beat Wisconsin-Milwaukee 2-1 in the second round two years ago. Last season UCSB defeated SDSU 2-0 at Harder Stadium in the first round before falling 3-2 at Big West rival Cal State Northridge in round two. Santa Barbara drew the Aztecs once again this year, coming from behind to win for the first time this season, 2-1 at home November 11.

A Measure of Experience
For a team to be successful and advance deep into the NCAA Tournament, it is important to be able to win close games. UCSB has played a total of 22 matches this season and 13 of those have been decided by a single goal. The Gauchos own an 9-4 mark in those contests, with three of the four losses coming on the road. Santa Barbara dropped 1-0 decisions at then-ranked No. 3 Virginia August 27, at UC Davis September 23 and at UC Riverside October 11 and lost 2-1 to No. 18 UIC at Harder Stadium September 8. On the flip side, following the 2-1 victory over Old Dominion in the Sweet 16, nine of UCSB's 12 victories have come by a one goal margin--five of them by a 1-0 count--so this year's team definitely has experience playing in close games. Northwestern has played its share of close games as well, posting a 8-5 record in games decided by a single goal.