The addition of a national championship banner to Harder Stadium’s entrance was a nice off-season touch by the facility’s decorative staff, but they forgot something. Why the heck do two mammoth posters of players who no longer grace the pitch still greet Gaucho fans?
Sure, Ivan Becerra stepped up and carried the UCSB men’s soccer team to the postseason with his offensive explosion in 2005, leading the squad with 12 goals and 26 points. Not only is Becerra no longer donning the Blue and White, but he was gone before the national title campaign, save for his appearances in the crowd. And his female counterpart gracing Harder Stadium’s entrance? Shelly Murphy, who played 13 games for the Gauchos in 2006, starting two and never seeing the field again.
When the banners went up before the 2006 season, I thought the idea was great. They helped make soccer feel like it belonged in a football stadium, and the soccer programs were finally starting to see the much-deserved, big-time hype around campus. But now, more than a year later, these curious images remain. The way I see it, it’s better to remove the outdated signs than keep them as a reminder of years past, especially when there are plenty of poster-worthy candidates in each program.
Why not have a banner of All-American, Hermann Trophy candidate Eric Avila leaving a fallen defender in his dust welcoming Gaucho fans? Or better yet, how about a Goliath-sized image of three-time All-American Andy Iro – easily the most identifiable guy on campus – staring down opposing fans as they walk through the gate? On the women’s side, why not have Katie Wright, who put together a solid year, be the life-size advertisement for the squad?
The point is that, in the wake of the school’s second national championship, the athletic department should put marketing the men’s soccer team at the top of the priority list. This Wednesday, the #10 Gauchos travel to Central Coast rival Cal Poly for the biggest road game of the season so far, a game that could go a long way toward determining the Big West champion. For many of you, that last sentence was the first you had heard of the match, or at least of its importance. What there should be is a bus – or dare I imagine several buses – ready to take eager fans up the coast to cheer on their team.
The Mustangs are calling Wednesday “Break the Attendance Record Night,” complete with a video promoting the event on a school Web site. All of UCSB’s Big West foes have circled the date that the Gauchos visit as the biggest home contest of the year, so this is nothing new to the soccer squad. But if Santa Barbara soccer fans have learned anything, it should be that it is extremely difficult to win on the road in a hostile environment, especially having witnessed numerous opponents falter at Harder Stadium.
The point is that the athletic department should be doing anything and everything it can to make this program as good as it can be. This includes milking the support of the fan base in this post-championship season and continuing to build interest in the program. This has been done throughout the season with varying promotions and autograph opportunities, but at the same time, picking up a free foam finger seems a little weird with the reminders of the past lingering at the gates. I just want to see the men’s soccer team, which has given fans so many unforgettable moments over the years, get the help it deserves from the department it helps promote.