Los Angeles Soccer: Gyasi Vardes

COLLEGE: Game of the year pits UCs

September, 15, 2011
The rankings might say otherwise, but the men's college game of the year in Southern California arrives Friday, when perennial national powers UCLA and UC Santa Barbara tangle at the Bruins' Drake Stadium.

The Gauchos (4-0-1) are No. 6 in the new National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll and UCLA (2-2-1) is unranked, but no matter. Both figure to be in the push for a national title come November (and maybe UCSB's Big West Conference rival UC Irvine, too).

UCLA leads the series, 31-4-3, but it's 2-2-1 in the past five years, with Santa Barbara prevailing in the 2006 NCAA title game and in last year's meeting, played in front of 15,896 at the Gauchos' Harder Stadium, the second-largest on-campus crowd ever to see a college game.

Drake won't be quite so full, and it's not nearly as nice a place to see a game as is Harder: The track greatly separates the stands from the field, and its an increasingly distant view the higher up the loping concrete rows behind the benches.

But the quality ought to be exceptional. UCLA's slow start can't mask its talent, a sophomore-heavy group led by forward Chandler Hoffman (23 goals in his last 24 games, including with the Orange County Blue Star this summer) and midfielder Kelyn Rowe (on the Hermann Trophy watch list).

The Gauchos are led by Ghanaian forward David Opoku, the Big West's Freshman of the Year last season, who has a team-best four goals, and Hermann watch-lister Sam Garza, a Texan who led them with nine last year.

There's a big-name legacy on UCSB's roster, too: senior defender Tim Pontius (Yorba Linda/Servite HS), whose brother Chris, a (now-injured) winger for D.C. United, was an All-American for the Gauchos a few years ago.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: All-America forward Sydney Leroux scored three more goals -- her fourth, fifth and sixth of the season -- as UCLA (6-0-1) marched on, with victories over SMU and Fresno State. The Bruins jumped to fourth in the NSCAA poll and No. 2 in Soccer America's top 25.

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