With a record-breaking crowd anticipated, the UC Santa Barbara clash against UCLA is the easy pick for game of the week. The Gauchos Athletics Department is hyping it up as the Game of the Year, which goes along nicely with the countdown until kick-off on the Gauchos homepage.
The UCSB staff is putting a lot of advertising behind this game in hope of bringing out the rather large Santa Barbara soccer community for the event. In the past, the Gauchos have been successful in reeling in the fish for the clash against the Bruins. Over the last six years, the meeting between the two teams at Harder Stadium has averaged 9514 fans per game with the 2010 meeting pulling in nearly 16,000 fans.
Given that Saturday is move-in weekend at UCSB, there is a strong chance that the crowd reaches some impressive numbers for this game between two of the top 20 programs in men’s college soccer.
The Gauchos are 4-2 on the season after losing to No. 14 Butler (4-0-1) and No. 12 Akron (4-2) last week. It was a slip-up after a hot start to the season. The defense crumble against the Bulldogs and the offense had no bite against the Zips.
The Bruins are rolling with 10 goals scored in their last two games. Much of that offensive output can be attributed to the return of star forward Abu Danladi, who has played a grand total of 41 minutes this season and already scored three goals. His slow return to the field has the Bruins coaching staff dreaming of a healthy Danladi in December during the College Cup in Houston, Texas. When the former Gatorade Player of the Year is on the field, UCLA is by far the best team in college soccer.
Danladi played his high school ball just north of UCSB at Dunn School in Los Olivos so there will be a noticeable portion of the crowd supporting the former high school standout. The question surrounding the game will be how much will Danladi play. He has been used as a second half starter in the previous two games for the Bruins. Against Akron, he was pulled after 12 minutes. Against Cal State Northridge, he played nearly 30 minutes. He could be ready to play up to 45 minutes on Saturday, but the Bruins might not want to risk him in a non-conference tilt with the league opener 12 days away.
Beyond Danladi, this game is a showcase for the other players on both rosters looking for a chance at the professional level because this will be the one for the scouts and agents who can stay up late enough for the 7 p.m. (PT) kick off.
UCSB senior forward Nick DePuy is probably the player with the most on the line. DePuy, expected to be selected in the first round of the 2017 MLS SuperDraft, will be facing off against Michael Amick, one of the best center backs in college soccer, and Matthew Powell, one of the best freshman defenders in college soccer. DePuy is a bit of an untraditional forward. He has the strength and body to play in that position at the next level, but he needs some refinement to his game. He is competitive though and typically very effective in this types of games.
Fellow Gaucho Josue Espana should also be on the radar for the professional level in 2017. The senior midfielder is not the type of player that MLS rates because he is more cerebral than the typical MLS player, but he has the quality on the ball to push his game into the professional realm abroad.
On the Bruins side, the aforementioned Amick is the player to watch. He is not the best talent on the UCLA roster, which has a number of quality prospects, but he is the one who needs the most from his senior season to stay in the draft conversation from month to month. Amick, 6-0, 180 pounds, has been the captain of the Bruins for the past three season. He has played 66 games in his career and been a mainstay of a UCLA team that has had many highs during that period. Amick needs to show on Saturday that he can battle DePuy and handle the pressure that the Gauchos will apply while he is in possession. This could be a career-making game for the center back.
Midfielder Jackson Yueill is also one to watch. He is the supply line for Danladi and the attack. Yueill has had plenty of Generation adidas buzz in the past, and he will like get the attention again after this season.
Men’s Division I Games to Watch (Sept. 16-18)