Seeking a seventh consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament and a return to the College Cup, UCSB’s men’s soccer team released its schedule for the 2008 season Wednesday. The Gauchos’ nonconference slate features a match-up with the defending national champs as well as two other teams that have won the title in the past six years. 

“With the games we have in nonconference play, as well as the strength of the Big West overall, we feel that we have put together one of the top-10 schedules in the country,” head coach Tim Vom Steeg said.

“Our goal is always to play a schedule that not only prepares us for conference play, but gives us the strength of schedule needed to host a game in the NCAA Tournament, and we have definitely accomplished that.”

UCSB will once again open the season with a preseason scrimmage against cross-town rival Westmont, looking to capture an eighth straight Bryant & Sons Cup on Aug. 23. The Gauchos will battle the Warriors for the 46th time in their only exhibition tune-up before the start of the regular season.

For the first time since the 2005 campaign, UCSB will open the season at home when Air Force visits Harder Stadium on Aug. 29. The Gauchos then host Kentucky the following Friday as part of the Loyola Marymount Invitational, before hitting the road for the first time in 2008 to take on LMU in Los Angeles on Sept. 7.

In week three, the Gauchos will head to the East Coast to face Rutgers on Sept. 12, before a match-up with former assistant coach Leo Chappel and Columbia two days later.

The Gauchos will then return home to host Evansville on Sept. 18, before welcoming defending NCAA Champion Wake Forest to Harder Stadium on Sept. 25 in a battle between the last two programs to bring home the title. In the only previous meeting between the two schools, the Gauchos outlasted the Demon Deacons, 4-3, in a penalty kick shoot-out to advance the championship match in 2006. Wake Forest returned to the final game last season and came from behind to defeat Ohio State, 2-1, to claim the program’s first national championship.

The rematch is sure to be one of the premiere match-ups in college soccer in 2008.

On Sept. 27, UCSB squares off with Indiana in Bloomington for the first time since losing to the Hoosiers in the College Cup Final in 2004.

UCSB will then wrap up its nonconference schedule with a showdown in Westwood on Oct. 1, in the first meeting with UCLA since the championship match in St. Louis two years ago. The Gauchos defeated the Bruins 2-1 to claim the program’s first national title. UCLA defeated Stanford 1-0 to win the national championship in 2002.

The Gauchos will begin defense of their fifth Big West Championship in the last seven years at UC Irvine on Oct. 4. They then come home for three straight, hosting Cal State Northridge, UC Davis and UC Riverside, before traveling to Cal Poly on Oct. 18.

With 13 letter-winners from last year’s squad, including Big West Conference Offensive Player of the Year Chris Pontius, UCSB finishes the regular season with five league matches, closing the schedule at UC Davis on Nov. 8.

At the conclusion of the regular season the Big West will feature a conference tournament for the first time in 2008, with the top four teams advancing to a semifinal match on Nov. 12. The teams will be seeded according to the standings and the top two seeds will serve as the host sites. The highest remaining seed will then host the Big West Championship match on Nov. 15, with the winner receiving the conference’s automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament.

In all, UCSB’s schedule features five games against teams that qualified for the NCAA Tournament last season. The Gauchos also are in discussions to have two games televised nationally.

Ryan Hall is UCSB‘s assistant media relations director.