This Week's Schedule
Wednesday, November 9
No. 17 UC Santa Barbara (10-4-3, 5-1-2) at UC Riverside (5-11-1, 3-5-0)
UCR's Soccer Field Kickoff 3:00 p.m.
Saturday, November 12
No. 17 UC Santa Barbara (10-4-3, 5-1-2) vs. UC Irvine (10-5-3, 6-1-1)
UCSB's Harder Stadium Kickoff 7:00 p.m.
The Week That Was
UCSB lost its only match last week, dropping a close contest to Big West Champion Cal State Northridge in a critical battle of unbeaten teams in conference play. After the two programs scraped and clawed to a 2-2 draw October 8th on CSTV, the conference's top two squads met again and the Matadors prevailed 1-0 last Wednesday in Northridge. The Gauchos and Matadors played a very even match with each team taking 15 shots, but it was Daniel Paladini's goal in the 14th minute that proved to be the difference. Santa Barbara suffered a crushing blow to its hopes of a second-straight Big West title, falling to 10-4-3 overall and 5-1-2 in the Big West with its first loss of the year in league play.
After the loss to Northridge, the 17th-ranked UC Santa Barbara men's soccer team finds itself in even more unfamiliar territory this week: third place in the Big West Conference standings. The Gauchos slipped into second place two weeks ago, falling two points behind CSUN, marking the first time Santa Barbara had not held at least a share of the conference lead since finishing second in 2003. Now UCSB is in the third spot looking up, two points behind Irvine and eight points behind Northridge. While a conference championship is out of reach with two games remaining, victories over the Highlanders and Anteaters this week would secure second place in the Big West for the Gauchos and be critical for receiving an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament. Santa Barbara has never been lower than second place in the conference standings since the Big West reinstated men's soccer in 2000, and the last time the Gauchos ranked third in the conference was all the way back in 1993, the final year the Big West sponsored men's soccer since its reinstatement.
The Ranking Game
UCSB enters the final week of regular season play with a national ranking of 24 in the current NSCAA/adidas Coaches' poll, down one spot from last week's 23rd spot. After moving from the NSCAA Top 25 for the first time in three years in weeks two through four, Santa Barbara finds itself in the coaches' poll for the sixth consecutive week. The Gauchos jump-started their climb back into the NSCAA poll with a 3-1 victory over Cal Poly September 28th. After falling to Cal State Northridge, 22nd in last week's poll and 20th this week, Santa Barbara dropped to No. 17 in the Soccer Times coaches' poll, down four spots from the 13th position they held a week ago. In the media polls, the Gauchos are ranked 20th by College Soccer News and fell out of the Soccer America Magazine Top 25 all together for the first time this season.
No Patty Cakes Here
For most teams, entering the final week of the regular season with a chance to finish 12-4-3 would be a good thing. Then again, most teams are not UCSB. Since the 2002 season, the year of their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament, Santa Barbara has posted 17, 15, and 17 wins in regular season play, respectively. But, thanks to their continued success over the recent years, UCSB has played one of the toughest schedules in the nation this year, and a 12-4-3 record against the caliber of opponents it has faced is indeed quite good. Looking at the Gauchos' four losses, three have come against teams that are currently ranked in the Top 20 of the NSCAA/adidas coaches poll, and two are in the Top 10, UCLA and Cal. While all four losses have come against teams in the extremely strong Far West region, a region that boasts six teams currently in the NSCAA Top 25, the largest contingent of teams from any one region in the poll. With the exception of Santa Barbara's 2-0 season-opening loss to the Golden Bears, their other three losses on the year have been by a one-goal margin on the road. They lost 2-1 at Loyola Marymount, currently second place in the WCC with a pair of wins over No. 14 Santa Clara; 1-0 at No. 7 UCLA, winners of the Pac-10 crown and the currently the nation's top-ranked defensive team with a 0.40 goals against average; and their last loss was the 1-0 decision last week at 20th-ranked Cal State Northridge, the 2005 Big West Champion which is sporting a nation's fourth-best .806 winning percentage. Entering the regular season's final week, these four programs have a combined record of 43-15-12 and have outscored their opponents 115-55.
UC Riverside Game Capsule
UCSB kicks off this week's action at UC Riverside on Wednesday, November 9th. The Gauchos command the all-time series 14-1-0 and have been very successful against the Highlanders. In fact, since the Highlanders made the jump up to Division I and the Big West in 2001, they have a perfect 9-0-0 all-time record against UCR and have combined to net 28 goals in those nine matches while limiting the Highlanders to just two, posting seven shutouts along the way. UCSB won the first meeting this season 4-0 at Harder Stadium led by a pair of goals by Ivan Becerra and three saves from Kyle Reynish.
UC Riverside enters Wednesday's match with a 5-11-1 overall record after a loss to San Francisco and a victory over Cal Poly last week. UCR has netted 18 goals this season and is averaging 1.02 goals per game. Senior forward Randy Poggio leads the Higlanders offensively with four goals, four assists and 34 shots. Freshman forward Kyle Ochoa has been impressive as well, with four goals and one assist. Former midfielder Andrew Hills has started the last two games in goal and has recorded 13 saves and one shutout.
UC Irvine Game Capsule
After the match with Riverside, Santa Barbara returns home to face second-place UC Irvine in both team's regular season finales. The Gauchos have controlled the all-time series, posting a 25-10-3 mark against the Anteaters, but UCI has proven to be a worthy opponent recently, as the two teams have split four contests over the last two seasons with the visiting team winning by a score of 1-0 in each match. This season, UCSB and UCI battled to a 2-2 deadlock October 14th in Irvine as Bryan Byrne and Eric Frimpong found the net for the Gauchos.
The Anteaters enter Saturday's match with a 10-5-3 overall record and stand 6-1-1 in the Big West and will face Cal State Northridge on Wednesday, trailing the Matadors by six points with one game in hand. UCI has won of four of their last five and is battling for a shot at a berth in the NCAA Tournament as the team is currently two points ahead of Santa Barbara in the conference standings with each team still having a pair to play. Irvine has tallied 32 goals this season for a 1.71 goals per game average. Junior Anthony Hamilton directs the Anteater offense, leading the team with 13 goals and 28 points and was named the Big West Conference Player of the Week each of the past two weeks after posting back-to-back hattricks. Senior keeper Ryan Mathy has started all but one game between the pipes and comes in with a 1.07 goals against average and 53 saves. Junior Brad Evans leads the squad with four assists and 82 shots.
The First Is Always the Biggest
The all-important first goal is something that has been hard to come by for UCSB over the course of the past month. In a sport such as soccer, the team that tallies the first point usually goes onto win, especially when two top quality teams are battling. This season the Gauchos have scored the first goal of the match 10 times, posting a record of 9-1-0 in those contests, with the one loss coming at LMU. On the flip side, UCSB has given up the first goal in six, compiling a 1-3-2 record when playing from behind. Santa Barbara beat UC Davis two weeks ago after giving up a goal in the fourth minute of the match, and went on to tie Cal State Northridge and UC Irvine after trailing early. The problem with playing from behind when you are as good of a team as UCSB is that opponents are content to "sit" on you and walk away with a one-goal victory, remember three of the Gauchos' four losses have been by one goal. And lately, Santa Barbara has not been making that first strike. In its first nine games of the season, UCSB scored the matches first goal in seven, winning all seven matches. In their last eight, the opposition has held the advantage at 5-3 in first goals scored, a streak in which the Gauchos have gone 4-2-2. But what the lack of early scoring has done is forced UCSB to play a total of 297:29 minutes of its last eight matches (779:19 minutes) playing catch-up (38.2%). On the other hand, it has only held a lead 76:04 of the its last 779:19 minutes played (9.8%), twice scoring the game-winning goal in the matches final ten minutes, and all-four times scoring the game-winner after the first half of play. Looking at the silver lining, should they earn an at-large berth into their fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament next week, the Gauchos will be a pretty experienced, pressure-tested team.
A Formidable Force
The strength of UCSB's defense has been a major factor in the Gauchos becoming one of the nation's premier programs, and this year's squad has been no different. Although this year's defense unit has featured a number of different players, as opposed to recent years where it seemed as if the same four of five players played every minute of every match, it has proven to be just as stout. Having suited up the same starting lineup just once this season in consecutive weeks, the D-unit has allowed just 15 goals this year, boasting an average of just 0.88 goals allowed per game, currently the fourth best mark in school history. In fact, since the Big West reinstated men's soccer and UCSB broke onto the national scene in 2000, only last year's 0.56 opponent goals per game average is better than this team's current mark. Sporting a goals against average of 0.84, junior goalkeeper Kyle Reynish and the rest of the defense are flirting with the nation's top 20 which currently sits at 0.73 GAA. As it stands, they are second in the conference in average, but tied with CSUN, who has played one more game, with 15 goals allowed. Through 17 matches, the Gaucho defense has limited the opposition to a meager .089 shot percentage, allowing just 35.7% of the opposition's 60 total shots to reach the frame. Of Santa Barbara's current starting defenders, senior defensive midfielder Nate Boyden and sophomore Preseason All-American Andy Iro have both started all but one of the Gauchos' 17 matches, the most among Santa Barbara's defensive players. They were both serving red card suspensions during UCSB's 0-0 tie against then No. 6, and current No. 17, Virginia September 4.
Senior forward Ivan Becerra has been outstanding this year and, at times, has single-handedly carried the Gaucho offense. After scoring the game winner two weeks ago against Cal State Fullerton, which was his then conference-high tenth goal of the season, the Los Angeles native is now just one goal away from breaking into the school's single season top ten list. The Big West's second leading scorer has definitely made his mark this season, producing a stretch in which he scored a pair of goals in four out of five matches beginning with the first matchup with UC Riverside in week three. Becerra has also recorded two assists this season giving him 22 total points, six shy of UCI's Hamilton in the race for the conference scoring title. Becerra recorded one shot in last week's loss to Northridge.
Senior midfielder Bryan Byrne is one of only two Gauchos to have started all 17 matches this season. Currently tied for fifth in the Big West averaging 0.88 points per game, Byrne has proven to be one of UCSB's biggest offensive weapons. Tied for both the team and conference lead with five assists so far in 2005, he is also second on the team, and eighth in the Big West, with five goals. In fact, he is the only player in the Big West with at least five goals and five assists, and one of just two with at least four goals and four assists. And although he is listed as a senior on the roster, the Gauchos will have the services of Byrne available for them again next year. As an international transfer, he attended a university one year in Ireland before coming to UCSB amd can return for a fourth and final athletic season should he obtain a degree within four years of graduating high school. Just like Neil Jones last year, as long as Byrne is still enrolled at UC Santa Barbara next fall and has completed all the requirements for a Bachelors Degree prior to the start of the season he can compete for the Gauchos in 2006.
Like a Veteran
Freshman midfielder Eric Avila has met expectations this year, solidifying his position as a critical member of the Gaucho offense. Two weeks ago, Avila recorded the game-winning goal against Davis and tallied the game-winning assist against Fullerton, earning him the first Big West Conference Co-Player of the Week and College Soccer News National Team of the Week honors for the first time in his career for the week ending October 30th. The U.S. Under-17 National Team standout is currently third on the team with 14 points, three goals and five assists, and is just one of two Gauchos to start every game this season. UCSB has a 7-0-1 record when the San Diego native shows up in the scoring column. Avila recorded three shots in last Wednesday's loss to Northridge and is tied for the conference lead with teammate Bryan Byrne with five assists. His 14 total points are the tenth most in the conference and the most of any Big West freshman.
The Last Line
Junior goalkeeper Kyle Reynish has been getting the job done all season long between the pipes, and has stepped up as a leader in the UCSB backfield. He has played all 1609 minutes in goal in 2005 and has 55 saves for a .786 save percentage, which are both one off of the conference lead, while his 0.84 goals against average is second-lowest in the Big West. His seven shutouts on the season, which ranks as the eighth-best season ever for a UCSB keeper, are second most by a Big West keeper this season. The Valencia, Calif. native recorded four saves against Northridge, including an impressive stop on a flurry following a Gaucho defensive breakdown, but was left helpless and could not recover as the winning goal pushed through. Reynish has now held the opposition to one goal or less in 12 of UCSB's 17 matches.
Hermann Trophy Watch
After returning to the starting lineup October 22nd against Cal Poly, sophomore Hermann Trophy Candidate Tyler Rosenlund did not start again this week against Cal State Northridge. The Canadian Youth National Team star has missed significant time this season due to an injury he suffered September 28th. Two weeks ago, Rosenlund played significant minutes in both of UCSB's matches helping facilitate the Gauchos' offense and creating a number of quality scoring opportunities against the Aggies and Titans. He is now fifth on the team with eight points off two goals and four assists. His four assists are tied for second on the team and fourth in the Big West.