Sept. 20, 2004
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -
Today was a historic day for UC Santa Barbara Athletics as its men's soccer team was recognized as the No. 1 team in the nation by Soccer America, achieving a new standard in Gaucho soccer. Off to a perfect 6-0-0 start to their 2004 campaign, the Gauchos moved up from the No. 3 to the No. 1 ranking after snapping then top-ranked Indiana's 23-game unbeaten streak en route to the tournament title at the UNM adidas Invitational.
UCSB has demonstrated that it is deserving of the label "Nation's Best" in the early goings of the season. Through the first six games the Gauchos have surrendered just one goal and posted three wins against ranked opponents on the road, including their double-overtime victory over the then top-ranked Hoosiers. Defense has been the key to Santa Barbara's rise into the No. 1 spot and senior goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, this week's National Player of the Week (College Soccer News), has been the driving force by starting the season with a stellar 518:59 scoreless streak.
What is truly remarkable is that four years ago the UCSB men's soccer program did not get much attention regionally, let alone nationally. In fact, prior to 2002 the Gauchos had made a national Top 25 list since finishing the 1982 season at No. 9.
Under the guidance of sixth-year head coach Tim Vom Steeg, currently the 12th winningest active coach (.694/72-30-6) in Division I, UCSB reemerged in 2001 with its first-ever Big West Conference title. However the Gauchos did not participate in the NCAA Tournament, because it was the conference's first season since reinstating men's soccer they did not receive an automatic berth.
After not receiving an at-large berth to the 2001 tourney, the Gauchos opened up with three straight wins in 2002, cracking College Soccer News' list at No. 25 after week two and marking the emergence of Santa Barbara on the national scene. UCSB finished the season with its second consecutive Big West title, a trip into the Second Round of its first ever NCAA Tournament, and a final NSCAA ranking of 21st.
Last season the Gauchos set a new standard for the program, before this year, when they were tabbed as the No. 7 team in the nation by CSN in after week seven. They finished the season in the Sweet 16, losing a heart-breaking double-overtime match at national runner-up St. John's, and ended the year with a No. 12 ranking from the NSCAA.
Senior co-captains Kennedy, Drew McAthy, and Neil Jones, along with fellow seniors Tony Lochhead, Jon Apilado, Matt Bly, redshirt junior Nate Boyden, and fourth-year assistant coach Leo Chappel have all been apart of each of UCSB's record setting seasons. In his six seasons as the head coach of the Gauchos, Vom Steeg has taken a program that finished 2-17-1 the year before he took the helm and has guided it to the top spot in the nation.
Santa Barbara is also ranked No. 2 by Soccer Times, receiving three first place votes, and No. 3 by College Soccer News.
So this week for the first time ever in UCSB history the Gauchos will play in an event as the No. 1 team in the nation when they host UC Riverside on Thursday, September 23 to open their Big West Conference campaign. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. in Harder Stadium.