No. 1 UCSB Kicks Off Regular Season At Stanford Friday; Hosts Gonzaga In Sunday Matinee

No. 1 UCSB Kicks Off Regular Season At Stanford Friday; Hosts Gonzaga In Sunday Matinee

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The Schedule
Match No. 1
Friday, August 31, 2007
No. 1 UC Santa Barbara Gauchos at Stanford Cardinal
Maloney Field
Kickoff 7:00 p.m.

Match No. 2
Sunday, September 2, 2007
No. 1 UC Santa Barbara vs. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Harder Stadium
Kickoff 2:00 p.m.

Gauchos On the Air & Web
• Fans that cannot make the trip up north Friday can catch the Gauchos' showdown with the Cardinal by tuning in to KCSB 91.9 in Santa Barbara. After following UCSB during its championship run in 2006, Chris "Hoffy" Hoffman and Alex "No H" Pavlovic will be calling the action live from Maloney Field. The Gaucho faithful can also listen to the two hardest working guys in student radio online by logging on to

Scouting the Cardinal
UCSB will open the season on the road for the second year in a row when the defending champions take on Pac-10 power Stanford this Friday at 7:00 p.m. Friday's showdown will be the 18th meeting between the two programs with the Cardinal leading the all-time series 11-5-1. A Drew McAthy goal gave the Gauchos a 1-0 win over Stanford in the last meeting in 2004.

• Stanford finished 7-7-4 overall in 2006 and third in the Pac-10 at 5-3-2. The Cardinal, who also kickoff their 2007 campaign Friday, return 10 starters and a total of 20 letterwinners this season.

• Senior midfielder Evan Morgan returns after leading the team with five goals to go along with one assist in 2006. His 12 points were second on the squad and he led Stanford with a .667 shot on goal percentage. Senior midfielder Kyle Hency was third with five points on one goal and three assists. Sophomore goalkeeper John Moore had a solid freshman campaign, appearing in a total of 15 games for the Cardinal between the posts and finished the year with a goals against average of 0.79, 56 saves, and four shutouts.

Scouting the Bulldogs
• After kicking off the 2007 season at Stanford Friday night, UCSB welcomes WCC member Gonzaga to Hader Stadium Sunday in its home opener. This weekend's match-up marks the fifth-ever meeting between the two schools, with the Bulldogs leading the all-time series 2-1-1. Gonzaga defeated UCSB in convincing fashion, handing the Gauchos a 5-0 loss in Spokane in the last meeting between the two squads back in 1998.

• Gonzaga, who opens its season Friday night at fellow Big West foe UC Irvine, welcomes back nine starters and a total of 19 letterwinners from last year's squad that finished the season with an overall record of 9-8-2 and a third place finish in the West Coast Conference at 6-5-1.

• Senior midfielder John Palladino is the Bulldogs top returning scorer after tallying five goals and two assists in 18 games in 2006. Also returning is senior midfielder John Reha, who found the net eight times to go along with two assists last season. Keeper Vito Higgins is back for his senior year after spending every minute between the posts for Gonzaga a year ago, posting a goals against average of 1.47 with 68 saves and four shutouts.

UCSB Continues Its Domination Against Westmont
The defending national champions took the field in their only preseason tune-up of 2007 last Saturday and made it count, posting a 2-0 win over Westmont College in the 45th Annual Bryant & Sons Cup. After the Gauchos were presented with championship rings in a ceremony before kickoff, Santa Barbara went on to dominate the ball and out-shot their cross-town rivals 20-3, with 15 of their shots coming on frame. Newcomer Michael Boxall was imprssive in his debut, scoring in the first half and senior forward Andrew Proctor found the net in the second to lead UCSB to its seventh consecutive victory over Westmont. The Gauchos have now out-scored the Warriors 22-5 with four shutouts over that span.

Poll Position
For the first time in program history, UCSB will open the season with a No. 1 national ranking after the Gauchos claimed the top spot in the NSCAA's preseason Top-25 poll. The ranking eclipses both the previous preseason high of No. 4 that Santa Barbara earned before the start of the 2005 season after spending a total of seven weeks as the nation's top-ranked squad and advancing to the national title match in 2004, as well as the No. 3 nod it secured from College Soccer News earlier this season. The Gauchos, who entered their national championship season with a No. 21 preseason ranking from College Soccer News and No. 22 mark from the NSCAA, are also ranked No. 4 by Soccer America to start the year. Soccer Times has not released a preseason poll.

Nice To Meet You
In 2007 UCSB will face a total of three opponents that they have never faced or faced just once in the history of the program. The Gauchos will take on Harvard for the first time ever on September 23 and battle Wisconsin-Milwaukee (Sept. 7) and Columbia (Sept. 21) for just the second time. Over the past three seasons, Santa Barbara has faired extremely well in contests in which it is facing an opponent for the first time. In fact, the Gauchos are a perfect 9-0-1 in such games since 2004, with the only tie coming in last season's College Cup Semifinal against Wake Forest (UCSB advanced 4-3 in a penalty kick shoot-out). Not only have the Gauchos been impossible to beat as a first-time opponent recently, they have out-scored the opposition by an incredible 28-3 margin over that span.

Hitting the Ground Running
It's worth noting that UCSB faced it's only other first-time opponent of 2006 in last year's opener. The Gauchos squared off with No. 7 Akron a year ago and the result was UCSB's most lopsided victory of the season, a 5-0 thrashing at the University of Virginia Soccer Classic. Eric Avila and Bongomin Otii eached scored two goals apiece as Santa Barbara opened what would become a national championship season with a bang. In Tim Vom Steeg's eight seasons as head coach, UCSB has posted a 6-1-1 record in season-openers and has out-scored the opposition by a 23-4 margin. Five of the six wins have been shutouts.

Guess Who's Back
While the Gauchos did lose some key members of last year's squad, all but five players return in 2007, including seven players that started against UCLA in the national championship match. In all, Santa Barbara welcomes back 21 letterwinners with a combined 546 games, including 307 starts, under their belts. On the back line two-time Big West Defensive Player of the Year and College Soccer News Preseason All-American Andy Iro and his co-captain Greg Curry are back eager to lead the team to greatness in their senior seasons. Returning to sound the charge for the Gaucho offense are Preseason All-American Eric Avila and reigning College Cup Most Outstanding Offensive Player Nick Perera. Jon Curry, who had an excellent finish to the season a year ago, along with one of Santa Barbara's most versatile players in Chris Pontius, return to the Gaucho midfield. Lastly, Alfonso Motagalvan is back after developing into one of UCSB's most reliable performers at the D-mid spot in 2006.

Ministry of Defense
If Saturday's preseason exhibition match against Westmont was any indication, then UCSB will look to pride itself on defense again in 2007. The backline, a spot with few, if any question marks entering the start of the season, should be better than it was a year ago. Iro, who managed to lead a defense that recorded an opponent goals against average of 0.86 and a total of 12 shutouts playing at 70% all year, returns after undergoing successful knee surgery in the offseason. The Liverpool native looked sharp against Westmont, a match that came on the heels of a six-game tour with the English National Team at the World University Games in Thailand. Likely lining up alongside Iro will be Greg Curry, who had an excellent junior campaign appearing in 15 games, and newcomer Michael Boxall, who comes to Santa Barbara after an impressive showing with the New Zealand National Team at the FIFA U-17 World Championships in Canada this summer. That trio got the starting nod Saturday against Westmont and looked tremendous, holding the visitors to just three shots in the match. The Gauchos have depth in the back that they have lacked in the past with Jon Curry, Pontius, and Motagalvan able capable of filling in.

Forward Thinking
Unlike the 2006 team that had no returning starters up front, the 2007 Gauchos are extremely deep at the forward position. In fact, all seven forwards from last year's roster are back and ready to improve on an offense that had trouble finishing from time to time a year ago. Among the guys competing for time are seniors Tino Nuñez, who returns in the best shape of his career at UCSB and completely healthy, and Andrew Proctor, who wasted no time showing off his footwork against Westmont, scoring Santa Barbara's second goal minutes after he entered the game. Tony Chinakwe also returns for his senior season after spending a year in the program and learning the ropes in 2006. Junior Nick Perera will make a strong case for quality minutes after his coming out party in 2006 -- one that saw him score three of his seven goals during the Gauchos' postseason run, including Santa Barbara's early strike in the national championship. Sophomore Paul Kierstead has made major strides after suffering a broken foot early last season and fellow second year player Guillermo Jalomo returns after appearing in eight games in 2006. Second Team All-Big West selection Bongomin Otii is back after becoming the first player in program history to score five goals in his first five games in the blue and gold as a freshman last season.

A New Era
While UCSB enters the season loaded with experience at the forward spot, the Gauchos will go with an unproven net minder for the first time in several years as their starting goalkeeper will be making his first appearance in the blue and gold in 2007. Although it will not be easy to replace the defending Big West Conference Co-Goalkeeper of Year and UCSB's all-time career leader in goals against average in Kyle Reynish, Santa Barbara has three very talented keepers at their disposal. Redshirt freshman Bryant Rueckner, who was a standout keeper in the U.S. National Residency Program and started 27 matches for the U-17s prior to his arrival in Santa Barbara, will likely get the nod. Rueckner started in the exhibition against Westmont and had to make just one save to record the win. Jason Badger, UCSB's other redshirt freshman keeper, under went shoulder surgery last season has made a full recovery. The highest-rated goalie at the Region IV ODP camp in 2005, Badger will definitely keep it competitive between the posts. As if the Gauchos weren't talented enough in the net, freshman Kristopher Minton, an excellent keeper with the Irvine Strikers and an All-CIF performer at El Toro High School, enters the mix as well.

Iro, Avila Named To Hermann Award Watch List
Senior defender Andy Iro and junior midfielder Eric Avila wererecently 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 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.

O'Brien Fills In Nicely
Gaucho soccer enthusiasts that were on hand for last Saturday's 2-0 exhibition win over Westmont got a glimpse of University of San Diego transfer Ciaran O'Brien in his first appearance in the blue and gold. They had to have been pleased with what they saw. O'Brien -- one of the most sought-after transfer players in the country this past offseason -- comes to UCSB after scoring six goals and dishing out four assists on the way to Freshman All-American honors for the Toreros in 2006. The Tacoma, Wash. native definitely looked like a suitable replacement for Tyler Rosenlund in the Gaucho midfield, connecting with Eric Avila on the wing in the 73rd minute for what became UCSB's second scoring play.