Back to the Future : Gauchos take a page out of the scrapbook

Aug. 28, 2009

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The artist known again as Prince might be the best choice to sing the national anthem at the 2004 soccer reunion that UCSB is planning to hold with Indiana on Oct. 2.

Coach Tim Vom Steeg, after all, keeps telling this year's Gauchos to party like it's ... 2004.

"You're going to hear a lot of references to that team," he said, referring to the squad that scrapped its way to the university's first College Cup. "That's the way we started training camp this year, by saying that it's the return to 2004.

"We're trying to take their approach to the game, to the way they trained. To how physical they played. We really want to be like 2004."

UCSB advanced all the way to a shootout in the 2004 NCAA final against Indiana behind College Cup Most Outstanding Offensive Player Drew McAthy at the Home Depot Center in Carson. It wasn't until two years later that the Gauchos finally reached NCAA soccer's Promised Land by beating UCLA in St. Louis.

But an Indiana rematch has been on Vom Steeg's mind ever since the Hoosiers' last penalty kick settled into the net.

He just couldn't get their coach, Mike Freitag, to return his calls - until two days after the Gauchos won their 2006 title.

"The first thing he says is, 'Hey, Timmy boy! How ya doing?'" Vom Steeg recalled. "And I'm like, 'Who is this?' And he says, 'Hey, it's Coach ... Coach Freitag ... Indiana ... How ya doing? Hey, wondering if you want to put us up there on the schedule?'

"So I said, 'Yeah, in fact I do.' "

Vom Steeg did insist that the home-and-away series come to UCSB in the fall of 2009, and not until after the start of school in October.

Players from the 2004 team will be honored during the Oct. 2 match, which will be televised nationally by the Fox Soccer Network.

"The real dream of Indiana is the fact that not only do we want to bring the '04 team back, but I have this idea that we can sell out the stadium," said Vom Steeg - a notion that means the turnout of more than 16,000. "People say, 'Nah, you can't sell out the stadium,' and we wouldn't have been able to do it before.

"But with the marketing we have now, and the support that we have now, and the effort that we can put into this thing ... I mean, if we can do 9,700 people on a Wednesday night on five days of advertising, I have no doubt that we'll be turning people away on Friday night, Oct. 2."

The 2004 team went 21-3-1 with a 7-0-1 mark in overtime games (the NCAA final was officially recorded as a tie).

But Vom Steeg is more interested in his Gauchos emulating the way the 2004 team played.

"It was a special year for us," he said. "It was a group that came together as freshmen and put us on the map, and was made up of players who only cared about winning.

"They did everything it took to win soccer games."

The fought like a band of brothers - against their opponents, and even with themselves in practice. The brawls became a regular occurrence.

"We had to stop practice so many times during '04," Vom Steeg said, "although they always did walk off the field shaking hands."

UCSB baseball coach Bob Brontsema was amazed after watching one workout.

"If it were baseball," he mused, "there's no way they'd walk off shaking hands."

Vom Steeg has been trying to instigate some intrasquad feistiness by recruiting the largest Gaucho team in history - 33 players in all.

"Our goal is to have everything we need not just for this season, but for next season, too," he said. "That's why we went out recruiting based not just on this season, but also looking at who we're graduating from this year, and do we have those pieces in place right now to do it all over again?

"For the players, it obviously makes for spirited competition. The players know that 11 play on a soccer field, only 20 travel, and only 24 suit up for home games. So it makes it very, very competitive."

Vom Steeg got a good sign of his team's grit when it went to Cal State Bakersfield to play a spring training match.

"We had to call it after 35 minutes because, by that point, both teams had literally taken their shoes off and were kicking each other and killing each other," he said.

In the very least, it means that he won't have to wait until Oct. 2 to get a read on the spunk of this year's Gauchos: Bakersfield will be in town for next Tuesday's opener.

It could be, as Prince once put it, a time when doves cry.

ROCKTOBER REDUX: It was back to the future, as well, for Colorado outfielder Ryan Spilborghs of Santa Barbara.

The former UCSB star stirred memories of the Rockies' Cinderella sprint into the 2007 World Series when he hit the first walk-off grand slam in club history to cap Monday's 14-inning, 6-4 win over San Francisco.

It brought Colorado to within three games of the Dodgers in the National League West - a division it once trailed by 15? games. No team has ever come from so far behind to win a Major League Baseball championship.

That 2007 Rockies' team did win 14 of its last 15 regular-season games, including a one-game playoff against San Diego, to sneak into the playoffs.

"That was amazing," catcher Yorvit Torrealba said of Monday's win. "That reminds me, actually, of the one-game playoff that we had against the Padres."

Manager Jim Tracy resorted to cliches in the afterglow, which included, "This team doesn't know how to spell the word quit."

When that quote was repeated to Spilborghs, he deadpanned, "Is it French?"

YOUNG AT HEART: Another former Gaucho, Texas Ranger third baseman Michael Young, is also taking a trip back to the future. Although his streak of consecutive 200-hit seasons ended at five last year, mostly due to a hand injury, he's back on pace this season.

He needs just 37 more in the Rangers' last 37 games to reach the milestone again.

Young is on a hot streak, having hit in 13 straight games. He won American League Player of the Week honors last week after going 15-for-30 with eight RBI.

He's also rediscovered his power stroke. He belted his 22nd home run on Tuesday, giving him more than the previous two seasons combined. It's also just two off the career-best he hit in 2005.

"My two biggest goals every season are to be healthy and stay consistent," Young said. "Last year, I wasn't able to have one of those, or maybe both of them."

They go hand-in-hand - and this year, neither one is broken.

Mark Patton's column appears on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail: mpatton@newspress.com