Los Angeles Soccer: Mark French

COLLEGE CUP: A slice of 'Soccer Heaven'

December, 12, 2010

AP Photo/Reed Saxon

The UC Santa Barbara community has rallied around the efforts of soccer coach Tim Vom Steeg.

GOLETA -- They call it “Soccer Heaven,” and the name fits.

UC Santa Barbara's Tim Vom Steeg has built in the last dozen years one of the nation's most prominent college men's soccer programs -- with nine successive NCAA tournament appearances, two College Cup title-game appearances and the 2006 national championship -- and the students and community have responded with unprecedented support.

It's evolved into what Vom Steeg calls “the perfect storm,” and the reward is this weekend's NCAA College Cup final four, the biggest event on the college soccer calendar.

The Gauchos didn't make it to the party -- they were controversially eliminated by Cal in the second round -- but they've been committed to making it a most memorable event anyway.

“Our fans know soccer. They're soccer-savvy,” UC Santa Barbara athletic director Mark Massari said before Friday's semifinals whittled the competition to No. 1 Louisville (20-0-3) and No. 2 Akron (21-1-2) in Sunday's 1 p.m. title game (ESPN2). “So we told the NCAA in the pitch two years ago [to bring the College Cup to Santa Barbara]: 'It's about soccer. Our people will come. Cross our fingers we're in it -- we'll play our butt [off] to get there -- but if we're not, you'll have four teams and a community that supports the soccer. This is “Soccer Heaven.”'

“[The pitch] was all about Santa Barbara and the weather and the landscape and the stadium -- and our fans will come out.”

UCSB fans have been coming out to 17,000-seat Harder Stadium in droves since 2004, when the Gauchos became a national power with a run to the College Cup final at Home Depot Center, where they succumbed to Indiana on penalties. They've draw four 10,000-plus crowds -- 15,896 for a showdown with UCLA in September -- and annually leads the nation in attendance.

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