No Gaucho athletic team’s accomplishments have ever been as far-reaching as those of the 2006 UCSB men’s soccer team. Period.
That is because this magical run to the national championship was about so much more than soccer. It was about putting UC Santa Barbara – not Cal Santa Barbara – on the collegiate athletic map. It was about bringing together two groups of people – community members and students – to root for a common interest with enough zest to gain a reputation across the land.
Fans were tied enough to this squad to travel all the way to snowy St. Louis for the College Cup, where they were by far the loudest legion of any of the four participants, to watch the Gauchos beat up UCLA, their big brother from the south. Even Chancellor Henry T. Yang joined the crowd after a red-eye flight the night before. 8,784 fans showed up at Harder Stadium during Thanksgiving Break to watch junior midfielder Tyler Rosenlund net three goals in one of the greatest individual performances by any Gaucho ever. Most importantly, the fan interest created a wave of enthusiasm across the board for UCSB’s teams.
“What [the championship] did was generate excitement around the campus,” Alex Harris, senior guard from the UCSB men’s basketball team said. “Having good sports teams get fans excited enough to make the Thunderdome more thunderous again, and that’s good for every team on campus.”
The championship proved that UCSB could compete at a national stage, increasing hope across Gaucho athletics. While the talent pool of both men’s and women’s basketball is so deep across the country that a UCSB national title in the sport is quite unlikely, what the soccer program has accomplished shows the rest of the sports how high they can go.
“The greatest impact this [championship] has is that it allows other programs in our department to realize they can achieve also,” Assistant Athletic Director of Media Relations Bill Mahoney said. “It takes you from thinking about success at a conference and regional level, to success at a national level.”
The best part for the program may be that the rewards are still coming in. The coaching staff assembled an outstanding recruiting class, highlighted by sophomore Ciaran O’Brien from the University of San Diego, regarded as the top transfer in the country. The marketing department is capitalizing on the success to create the first men’s soccer season-ticket package, in addition to a packed promotion schedule for the upcoming season.
Perhaps even more impressive, the championship inspired a bid from UCSB’s athletic department to host the 2008 or 2009 College Cups. Despite being passed over by the NCAA for Cary, N.C. and Dallas, Texas, the bidding experience has helped position the athletic department for future successful bids.
“I feel like the comments made about our setup are things that we can work on and are things we’ve been talking about doing anyway,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “I think we have every intention to put together another bid [for 2010 or 2011].”
To truly understand the magnitude of this season you have to understand exactly how far this team has come. As the ’80s came to a close and the ’90s were still young, many of Santa Barbara’s teams were having funding issues and many Big West and Mountain Pacific Sports Federation schools were cutting sports. Soccer avoided the chopping block at UCSB and has now grown into a priority sport for the Big West.
In 1998, the year before Vom Steeg took the reigns, the Gauchos posted a 2-17-1 record in the MPSF. Things immediately began to turn around with Vom Steeg at the helm. The Big West reinstated men’s soccer in 2001, and the program has been moving up ever since.
“The fact that all your hard work that you’ve done, in one game on a Sunday afternoon, gets validated is amazing,” Vom Steeg said. “It’s great for all the people who have done their part over my eight years and the alums over 35 years. I’ve really enjoyed sharing our championship with our fans and our boosters and the parents of our kids.”