Former UCSB star and current Toronto FC midfielder Eric Avila came up with the perfect description of a Gauchos-UCLA men’s soccer match:
“It’s the main event.”
The two national powers lace up their boots and go toe-to-toe Friday night at Harder Stadium in a nationally televised Game of the Week on the Fox Soccer Channel. Kickoff is at 6 p.m.
It will be a battle of top-10 teams. The undefeated Gauchos (5-0-1) enter the match with a No. 3 ranking in the national coaches’ poll, their highest ranking since 2009. UCLA (4-1-1) is rated No. 9 by Soccer America and 12th by the coaches.
While it’s still early in the season, this match likely will play a factor when seedings are made for the NCAA Tournament.
In other words, it’s an important match.
“UCLA is the team everyone wants to beat,” said Avila, who scored the game-winning goal in UCSB’s 2-1 victory over the Bruins for the 2006 national championship. “They consistently have a talented squad, and it’s a big rivalry. … It’s all for bragging rights on the coast.”
The last time the rivals played at Harder Stadium it drew 15,896, the largest on-campus crowd for a men’s soccer match in NCAA history and the second largest crowd of all time. The Gauchos won 2-0.
Former Gaucho All-American Luis Silva, who’s having a standout rookie season with Toronto FC of Major League Soccer, assisted on the second goal in that game.
“That particular game was amazing,” Silva recalled. “It was the first time I played in front of that many people. It was an honor and a pleasure to play in that match, and we won, which made it even better.”
Several players from that game currently play in the MLS. From UCLA: Andy Rose (Seattle Sounders), Kelyn Rose (New England Revolution) and Brian Rowe (L.A. Galaxy). From UCSB: Silva (Toronto FC) and Sam Garza (San Jose Earthquakes).
Tonight’s match will feature some of the top players in the country.
UCLA is led by senior forward Ryan Hollingshead and senior midfielder Fernando Monge. They both scored in a 2-1 Bruin win over UCSB in a third-round NCAA Tournament match at UCLA in 2009.
The Bruins have played a tough pre-conference schedule. They opened with a loss at home against No. 6 New Mexico and battled top-ranked Maryland to a 2-2 tie in College Park. They have since won four in a row, including wins over No. 12 UC Irvine, Virginia and Tulsa.
UCSB is unbeaten in its first six matches, with four of the wins coming on the road. The one tie was against Oregon State at the Gonzaga Tournament. The Bruins are the first ranked team the Gauchos play this season.
Junior forward Achille Campion is the Gauchos’ leading goal scorer with five goals. Dom Sarle, a junior forward, has dished off a team-best four assists.
The match figures to have a playoff feel to it, with both teams flying up and down the field.
Silva said UCLA is always a hard game.
“The thing about UCLA was that they always beat us in the playoffs,” Silva said, “but, hopefully, the guys can grab a win on Friday.”