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Chris Pontius Scores in L.A. Galaxy Win Over Fresno FC; Former UCSB Players Reminisce

Chris Pontius and Ema Boateng recalled their favorite moments as Gauchos

Chris Pontius of the L.A. Galaxy challenges the Fresno FC goalkeeper for a crossing ball during Thursday night’s preseason soccer match at Harder Stadium. Click to view larger
Chris Pontius of the L.A. Galaxy challenges the Fresno FC goalkeeper for a crossing ball during Thursday night’s preseason soccer match at Harder Stadium. (JC Corliss photo)

Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder Chris Pontius, the UC Santa Barbara alum who spearheaded the Gauchos to the College Cup title in 2006, was comfortable in his return home to Harder Stadium on Thursday, as the five-time Major League Soccer champions cruised to a 3-1 exhibition win over Fresno FC of the United Soccer League.

Pontius headed in a go-ahead goal off a corner play in the 50th minute. He served up some clever ground passes during the match, springing around with an agility that belied his 30-year-old frame.

After growing up in Yorba Linda, Pontius put in a memorable four years at UCSB, adding a Big West Conference Offensive Player of the Year recognition to his belt in the 2007 season.

“It’s nice to be back here – some familiar faces,” he said. “I had a lot of good memories here.”

His favorite moment from the 2006 run? “Lifting the trophy,” he said with a laugh.

The ’06 season was quite the Cinderella story for the Gauchos under coach Tim Vom Steeg. After starting an uneven 7-6, the team ran off some big victories to close the regular season. It was enough to secure an unseeded NCAA tournament berth.

The team needed some dramatic wins to climb the mountaintop, eventually holding off UCLA to get the national championship.

“We were a really resilient team,” he said. “We overcame some hardships during that run. That made it really special.”

Santa Barbara’s sizable Galaxy fan base filled out much of Harder Stadium for Thursday night’s preseason contest.

Sebastian Lletget of the Galaxy scores the tying goal in the 26th minute. The Galaxy won the game 3-1. Click to view larger
Sebastian Lletget of the Galaxy scores the tying goal in the 26th minute. The Galaxy won the game 3-1. (JC Corliss photo)

Renato Bustamante drew first blood for Fresno, scoring off an assist from teammate Alex Cooper. The second-tiered professional club kept things interesting, breaking up a few L.A. formations here and there.

But after Galaxy midfielder Sebastian Lletget rebounded a deflection and tucked away a goal in the 26th, the club showed its Major League prowess, even with most of their premier players on the sideline. Tomas Hilliard-Arce ran in another goal at the 78th for the match-sealing score.

While Pontius shined in the start, his fellow former Gaucho, Ema Boateng, didn’t suit up. Instead, the midfielder saved his energy for Major League opponent San Jose Earthquakes in a preseason match in Orange County on Saturday.

Boateng came to Santa Barbara from Ghana at the age of 15, racking up all sorts of accolades during a three-year stint at Cate School. He put in a year at UCSB before turning pro.

He took a moment to talk about his time at UCSB, saying he’d visit his favorite food place, the popular Freebirds burrito joint in Isla Vista, after the match. And, of course, he reflected on his year under Vom Steeg’s guidance.

Before the Galaxy match, Vom Steeg coached UCSB to an exhibition win over the Ventura County Fusion of the Player Development League, where Boateng also played a few matches in 2013. Boateng sat with his old coach in the stands Thursday night, catching up as they watched the match.

Boateng’s time at UCSB was short-lived, but he relished the Gauchos’ September 2012 match against UCLA — in which he scored an equalizing goal to force a draw.

“It was my first time on national TV,” he said. “Really great memory.”

Noozhawk sports reporter Shomik Mukherjee can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @noozhawksports, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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