“I’ll be honest with you: If we don’t pull this off, the College Cup will be in the East Coast for 10 to 20 years. It’ll be the one Cup that they’ll refer back to. ‘Well, we tried going to the West Coast in Santa Barbara, and it was no better than this or that.'”
— UCSB men’s soccer Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg

There’s a lot riding on the line in 2010 when UCSB hosts the College Cup for the first time in the school’s history. Granted, it’s a fantastic opportunity for the school to be showcased to a national audience, and will likely bring in significant revenue at the gate as well. However, there are lofty expectations that the school will have to live up to for the event to be considered a success.

Gaucho soccer is in many ways a benchmark for where West Coast soccer wants to be. UCSB has been the most successful program this side of the Mississippi in recent memory, both in terms of on-field success and off-field support. The Gauchos have finished seven straight seasons in the top 25 nationally, reached two national title games in that span (winning one of them), and have crowds that other schools can only dream of. Student and community support for Santa Barbara is unrivaled, and the biggest crowds in the country always gather at Harder Stadium. In fact, despite playing near half of their home games before school is even in session, the Gauchos have led the nation in average attendance for the last two years.

But UCSB’s success hasn’t necessarily brought about any change in the respect West Coast soccer gets. What little college soccer media there is on a national scale is almost entirely devoted to the Atlantic Coast Conference. National television crews are willing to come to Harder, or occasionally to where the Gauchos are playing on the road, but rarely stray from there. The College Cup, despite having featured the likes of Stanford, Santa Clara, UCLA and UCSB in its finale over the last decade, has only been played on the West Coast once in that time (at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., in 2004). Now that it’s coming west again, and to the Mecca of Pacific Coast soccer, expectations are high that the Gauchos will set the right example.

Vom Steeg says he’s been called by coaches of several California schools, both congratulating him and offering their help in making the event the best it can be. “We’re trying to make a pitch for the fact that the West Coast needs to be equally represented,” he said. To do so, the Gauchos will need to take this opportunity and impress all comers.

Part of that relies on making sure the facility is as immaculate as ever, and UCSB has plans to make that happen. Aside from making upgrades to the press box and the building’s exterior, Vom Steeg says the emphasis is on making sure the pitch itself is perfect.

Another factor, and perhaps a more important one in determining how the event unfolds, is the turnout at the games.

“If we are in the final four, the place will be sold out. That’s a given,” Vom Steeg said. “A big part of winning the bid was convincing people we can fill the place whether or not we’re in it.”

The goal, he said, is between 10,000 and 12,000 people at each of the games.

“If we have 10,000 people, it will be a great atmosphere — it will be loud and it will be a great place for players to compete.”

It’s a lofty goal, perhaps, but not out of reach for this soccer-crazed community. And if all goes well, it may not be Santa Barbara’s only chance.

“If we knew that every other year it would come back to the West Coast, then we’ve got a chance to bring it back to Santa Barbara,” Vom Steeg said. “Right now it’s been very difficult, because it’s always played in the East Coast. A successful College Cup in Santa Barbara would open up the doors to others in the West.”