No. 1 Ranked Gauchos Begin Quest to Regain Big West Crown When They Host UC Riverside Thursday
This Week's Schedule
Thursday, September 23 7:00 p.m.
No. 1 UC Santa Barbara (6-0-0) vs. UC Riverside (5-1-0)
UCSB's Harder Stadium
Sunday, September 26 2:00 p.m.
No. 1 UC Santa Barbara (6-0-0) vs. UNLV (1-4-0)
UCSB' Harder Stadium
The Best in the Nation
Tabbed the nation's best after snapping defending National Champion Indiana's 23-game unbeaten streak, UCSB defends its first-ever No. 1 national ranking this week when its hosts UC Riverside and UNLV in the friendly confines of Harder Stadium. Off to a perfect 6-0-0 start, the Gauchos are arguably off to their best start in program history having relinquished just one goal while posting three wins over ranked opponents. Santa Barbara earned the honor of being the top-ranked team in nation from Soccer America, moving up from last week's marking of No. 3 by the magazine. UCSB also hit all-time highs in the three other national polls, occupying the No. 2 spots both the NSCAA/adidas and Soccer Times coaches' polls, and the No. 3 spot in College Soccer News' Top 30.
UC Riverside Game Capsule
The Gauchos begin their quest to regain the Big West Conference trophy when they host UC Riverside this Thursday in Harder Stadium for their conference opener. UCR, having topped Cal State Fullerton 2-1 in their season opener, have sat atop the Big West standings since week one by virtue of their 1-0 conference record.
Just as this week was a historic week in UCSB history, it was also a historic week in UC Riverside men's soccer history. Currently riding a three-game win streak and holding onto a 4-1 overall record, the Highlanders earned a Far West regional ranking for the first time in program history. UCR is tied with San Francisco for 9th in the region, the Gauchos of course occupy the No. 1 spot.
UCSB has a commanding lead on the all-time series, but this year's version of the Highlanders is much improved over the season's past. The Gauchos have won every match (6-0) since UCR made to jump to Division I and the Big West Conference. In fact in those six games UCSB has outscored the Highlanders by an 18-2 margin.
UNLV Game Capsule
When UCSB faces UNLV the numbers are not in the Rebels favor. Tthus far in 2004 the Gauchos have tipped the scale in almost every offensive and defensive category in every match. Meaning Santa Barbara has been shrinking their opponents' scoring margins. Offensively they have scored more goals and tallied more shots than their opponents had been giving up on average in all six matches. And defensively, the Gauchos have held their opponent's scoring and shooting below their season average. Prior to its match at SDSU, UNLV was averaging just 0.20 goals scored per game and giving up 1.8 per match, a negative margin of 1.6. On the flip side, the Gauchos have given up just one goal in six matches for a 0.2 per match mark, while averaging 1.83 per game in favor, a postive margin of 1.7. The only time that an opponent has performed better than its average against UCSB was when then No. 21 Seton Hall, who had been giving up 8.3 shots per game, held the Gauchos to seven, and UConn, offensively, rang up 11 shots in its match with UCSB, but entering the game they were only averaging a mere 10.3 per game. So prior to deflation, Santa Barbara has a 3.3 goal advantage entering Sunday's match.
So He Likes To Wear Gloves
Senior co-captain and three-time All-Big West honoree Dan Kennedy was named the National Player of the Week for the first time in his career after leading the Gauchos' to the tournament title at the UNM adidas/Crescent Financial Solutions Invitational. It is the second consecutive week that he has been named to CSN's National Team of the Week. In UCSB's first game Kennedy made a season-high seven saves to shutout then top-ranked Indiana for his fifth consecutive shutout to start the season, snapping the Hoosiers 23-game unbeaten streak. Kennedy kept the Gauchos perfect against Columbia denying four Lion shots in Santa Barbara's 4-1 win, however he had streak of his own broken, giving up his first regular season goal in 748:13 minutes. In fact, take away UCSB's appearance in the 2003 NCAA Tournament and his consecutive scoreless would have stood at 8th all-time in NCAA history. This weekend he can solidify himself even more as the greatest netminder in Gaucho history. With 6066 career minutes played, should he play the entire match against UC Riverside and it not go to overtime, Kennedy will overtake his coach of the past four seasons, Ryan Sparre, at the 24th minute mark against UNLV on UCSB's all-time goalkeeper minutes played list. And sitting on 26 career complete game shutouts, Kennedy has the potential to surpass Steve Tipping's all-time mark of 27.
A Bit Dizzying
Unlike years past where opponents were able to predict with a fair amount of consistency where the UCSB attack would come from, the offense this year has come from all over the field. Last season through the first six games of the season all of the offense came from just five people, and of those five only three had scored a goal. After six games this season six different players had netted a goal, and 16 in all have registered at least one point. Senior Matt Bly and freshman Andy Iro are the most recent Gauchos to break the egg, and both did so playing as defenders. Bly tallied the first goal against Columbia, and Iro buried the golden goal to defeat then No. 1 Indiana in the second overtime, earning the freshman from Liverpool a spot on Soccer America's National Team of the Week.
It has been a slow and quick rise to the top for the UCSB men's soccer program. It its 38th season with an all-time record of 319-281-58 (.529), the Gauchos had not seen much success until the arrival of sixth year head coach Tim Vom Steeg, currently the 12th winningest (.694%) active coach in NCAA Division I. Inheriting a team that finished 2-17-1 the year prior, Vom Steeg turned a mid-table program and moved it into the upper echelon of college soccer as evidenced be this week's first-ever No. 1 national ranking. In his first year he led the Gauchos to the fourth-best turnaround in DI history, improving 10.5 points with a 13-7-0 record in 1999.
As much success as Santa Barbara had in Vom Steeg's first season, it was in 2001 when UCSB took its biggest steps towards the No. 1 spot. With the arrival of seniors Dan Kennedy, Drew McAthy, Neil Jones, Tony Lochhead, Jon Apilado, Matt Bly, redshirt juniors Nate Boyden and Pat Scott, and assistant coach Leo Chappel the new form of Gaucho soccer began to take shape. Prior to 2001 UCSB had posted just seven double-digit win seasons, only 12 winning seasons, and had received only one national ranking in 1982 when the team finished 16-2-4, its only 16+ win season in the first 35 years. Since 2001 the Gauchos have enjoyed tremendous success on the pitch, winning two Big West Championships and posting a 2-2 record in two NCAA Tournaments. Santa Barbara has, and is on pace to, put together four consecutive double-digit win seasons for the first time in program history, surpassing the 11-16-13 win seasons of 1981 to 1983. Having already claimed their 51st victory as a class against Columbia, the 2001 freshman class is one pace to lead this year's team to a third consecutive 16+ win season. Despite not receiving much attention nationally in 2001, the Gauchos reentered the national polls in week two of the 2002 season at 25th on the CSN poll and they have never looked back. Including this year's five straight shutouts to start the season, much of the reason why Santa Barbara is the current No. 1, this year's senior class has put up 31 shutouts in its 63 games and has played alongside three All-Americans.