St. Louis, Missouri – December 3, 2006 – UC Santa Barbara shocked the college soccer world Sunday evening in St. Louis with a 2-1 win over a UCLA squad that went into the match with just about all the tangible evidence pointing to a Bruin win. But sometimes it’s the intangibles that end up making the difference and in this case the Gauchos were the team that played the match with the heart of a lion.
Conventional wisdom indicated UCLA would be the fresher of the two teams and would take the attack to the Gauchos from the opening whistle. The Bruins cruised by Virginia 4-0 from the ACC Saturday behind four second half goals while a bruised and banged up UC Santa Barbara side was engaged in a match with number two seeded Wake Forest from the ACC that required regulation, extra time, and a penalty kick shootout in order to earn the right to advance to the championship match. In addition, UCLA entered the contest with a daunting 30-2-1 overall record against UCSB that included a convincing 3-1 win on the road in Santa Barbara earlier this year. It seemed highly likely that UCLA’s quickness and one and two touch brand of soccer would take a toll on the legs of the UC Santa Barbara players as the match progressed and that UC Santa Barbara’s physical style of play would give the Bruins free kick opportunities that would ultimately produce a bending ball or two that would find the back of the net.
However something very much unexpected happened that turned this match on its ear in the early going. Tim Vom Steeg’s Gauchos were the team that came out firing taking the attack to the Bruins and giving renewed meaning to the old adage that the best defense is a good offense.
Before the crowd at Robert R. Herman Stadium had fully settled in their seats and the ESPN2 announcers had had a chance to spin a tale or two about the exploits of the highly touted Bruin freshmen, Gaucho junior midfielder Tyler Rosenlund attacked down the left side of the field at speed, ala what everyone had expected UCLA to do, and sent a crisp pass back to trailing sophomore forward Nick Perera who then skillfully slotted a shot just inside the far post out of the reach of UCLA netminder Eric Reed to give UCSB an unexpected 1-0 lead just two minutes into the match. There was an eternity of time remaining in the contest but a ball in the old onion sack has a way of adding a little extra energy and endurance to legs that otherwise might be weary.
At the eight minute mark Perera fired a shot from about fifteen yards out that hit the left post and in the 27th minute Rosenlund also blasted a shot that clanged off the left post. In both cases a difference of about two inches prevented the Gauchos from adding two additional first half goals. The first stanza ended with UC Santa Barbara holding a 1-0 advantage. UC Santa Barbara did an excellent job of playing one and two touch soccer during the first half of play with very simple but smart movement off the ball that enabled them to maintain possession, create scoring opportunities, and get the best of the run of play. Defensively the Gauchos remained organized and always had a man marking and a man supporting which significantly reduced the number of one on one situations that the talented UCLA attackers are so capable of exploiting.
As the second half of play began the match was still very much up for grabs. Although the Gauchos had a one goal advantage, it seemed highly likely that if the Bruins were able to score and even the match that the momentum would switch to the lads from Westwood and that the Gauchos would begin to experience the fatigue that was expected to overtake them as the match progressed. But that was not to happen as sophomore Eric Avila netted what turned out to be the game-winner fifteen minutes into the second half when he drove a shot into the net just inside the far post. Credit teammates Nick Perera and Bryan Byrne with the double assist to set up the goal. UCLA got back into the match when sophomore Jason Leopoldo scored off an assist from midfielder Tony Beltran with twelve minutes remaining to pull the Bruins within a goal at 2-1. UCLA pressed the attack for the remainder of the match but they were unable to find the back of the net. Credit the UC Santa Barbara backline of Andy Iro, Jon Curry, Gregg Curry, Alfonso Motagalvan and senior goalkeeper Kyle Reynish with a very productive and gutsy evening.
UC Santa Barbara held an 8 to 3 advantage in shots during the first half of play while UCLA had an 8 to 7 advantage in shots during the second stanza. The Bruins had a 6 to 3 advantage in corner kicks using the short corner almost exclusively. Reynish had four saves in goal for UC Santa Barbara while Eric Reed had seven saves in goal for UCLA.
For most of the match UC Santa Barbara was the aggressor pushing the attack forward playing very effective one and two touch soccer in which they allowed the ball to do a lot of the work. UCLA seemed to get away from the things that had worked for them so well against Virginia and allowed UC Santa Barbara to dictate the style and tempo of the match. The Bruins never fully seemed to get into a rhythm on the offensive side of the ball and their very talented forward combination of David Estrada and Kyle Nakazawa and midfielder Sal Zizzo were pretty much held in check throughout the evening.
The unseeded Gauchos from the Big West Conference end the 2006 campaign with an 18-7-0 mark that included a run of six victories in the NCAA Tourney to secure the National Title. Now that it is all over – it is clear that the 2006 UC Santa Barbara Gauchos are truly a team of destiny