The first month of the football season is a tough time for women’s soccer to come out of the shadows, even though the game is better than ever, better than it was eight years ago when Brandi Chastain displayed her abs.
“I’m so impressed with the absolute boom of talent,” said Paul Stumpf, in his ninth season as coach of UCSB’s team. “Ten years ago, our national team was winning by six or seven goals to none. That rarely happens now.”
The U.S. team, seeking its third championship, had to fight its way out of the “Group of Death” at the Women’s World Cup in China. The Americans came back from a goal down to earn a 2-2 tie in a riveting game against North Korea; they knocked off Sweden, the world’s number-three ranked team, 2-0; then they staved off Nigeria by a 1-0 score.
Although the games have been televised by ESPN and ESPN2, because of the time difference, they are aired in the wee hours of the morning when insomniacs usually watch reruns of Sports Center. At 5 a.m. on Saturday, September 22, the U.S. women will face England in the quarterfinals.”Watch out for England,” Stumpf said. “Culturally, they walk it and talk it. They have a women’s pro soccer league supported by the [men’s] Premier League.”
In the United States, college programs have stocked the national team’s roster. One of the standouts for the first world champions in 1991 came out of UCSB. During her Gaucho career, Carin Jennings-Gabarra scored 102 goals, an NCAA record later broken by Mia Hamm.
UCSB’s intercollegiate program is in its 25th year. The Gauchos faced five NCAA playoff teams in their first six games this season and went 1-2-2 against them. Their next home game is at 6 p.m. on Sunday, September 23, against San Diego State.
Injuries have plagued the Gaucho women-six scholarship players are sitting out the year as medical redshirts-but they have been able to stay close in low-scoring games, fortified by the presence of goalkeeper Katie Wright. The 5Ê¹10Ê° senior preserved a 1-1 tie against UNLV last Sunday by leaping to swat away a ball that Erica Jensen of the Rebels hammered toward the underside of the crossbar from a few yards away.
“I don’t know how she saved that one,” junior midfielder Sami Svrcek said. “We call Katie ‘Go-Go Gadget Arms.’ Her arms look like they come out of their sockets.”
Wright said she is inspired by watching Hope Solo, the U.S. goalie. Solo let a ball slip through her hands for a North Korean goal at the World Cup, then she came back to make a heroic diving save in the final minute. “To see someone like that make a mistake, you realize she’s human,” Wright said. “Then she made a save that spoke volumes about what a great athlete she is.”
Another impressive national player is Abby Wambach, a 5Ê¹11Ê° powerhouse whose size and strength mask how highly skilled she is. “She’s a stud,” Wright said. “We all look up to her.”
Svrcek certainly does. At 5Ê¹2Ê°, the Gaucho midfielder was the smallest player on the field Sunday. “People call me ‘Midge,'” she said. She was a persistent gnat buzzing around the field for 110 minutes against UNLV. Svrcek’s shot in the second half led to a rebound goal by freshman Jacqui Simon.
“Sami is six feet tall in her heart,” Stumpf said. “I’m such a fan of that girl.”
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS: The high school football teams on the Santa Barbara coast are 8-3 after four more victories last weekend. This Friday night’s games are: San Luis Obispo at San Marcos (0-2) in the Royals’ home opener; Righetti at Santa Barbara (2-0); Santa Ynez at Carpinteria (1-1); Dos Pueblos (2-0) at Lompoc; and Bishop Diego (3-0) at St. Joseph in Santa Maria. : UCSB’s national champion men’s soccer team faces Columbia at 7 p.m. on Friday on Meredith Field (the pitch at Harder Stadium).