UC Santa Barbara - Four Star Recruiting Class - There is no doubt that UC Santa Barbara is among the flagship programs in college soccer. The success of the program under head coach Tim Vom Steeg and the community support that it has enjoyed are unprecedented.
What was supposed to be a talent-rich and experienced UCSB team last year was a shell of its former self by season end. The Gauchos were ranked as the number seven team in the country by CSN and the number four team in the country by the NSCAA at the end of September with a 7-0-3 record. However, they underachieved in October going 3-6-0 to finish the season with a 10-6-3 overall record and a 4-5-1 mark in Big West Conference play. The Gauchos were uncharacteristically last in the North Division of the Big West Conference and failed to earn a berth in the conference tourney. They also were left out of the NCAA Tourney for the first time since the 2002 season.
Vom Steeg has done an excellent job over the years of annually bringing on board players that fill the gaps that exist while maintaining the desired team chemistry. However, a miss or two here and there in recruiting combined with a few key injuries can result in a downward spiral particularly when you are a program like UCSB where everyone gets up for playing you. There often is a very fine line between the conditions that result in a successful season and the conditions that produce a disappointing season.
In the past the Gauchos have often equaled more than the sum of their parts. It was if the sheer joy of playing the game together and the excitement generated by a fan base that is the largest and most passionate in college soccer gave UC Santa Barbara an edge that elevated the program to a higher level and enabled the players to play through adversity. Unfortunately, that was not the case in 2012.
Vom Steeg and his players will seek to get back on track in 2013 with the return of eight team members who were starters at some time during the 2012 season supplemented by the addition of a ten member recruiting class. The 2013 recruiting class includes seven freshmen and three transfers. The 2013 class is somewhat different than past seasons in that it does not lean as heavily on players that already have a year or two of collegiate experience under their belts. It should be noted that the class sustained a hit when in-coming freshman forward Ben Spencer who initially signed with the Gauchos decided to take his game to the professional level.
Conventional wisdom in the past has been that the Gauchos were a lock to be at or near the top of the Big West standings but that is clearly no longer a given as the conference has greater depth and quality from top to bottom than ever before. It is great to play high profile non-conference opponents but the bottom line is that to be successful you still have to take care of business in conference play.
Last year the Gauchos didn’t effectively take advantage of the scoring opportunities that came their way. Finishing opportunities is a critical success factor under any circumstances but it is particularly vital when opponents pack the back as some did last year against the Gauchos and appeared willing to settle for a tie. UC Santa Barbara does not have a tie mentality. They play to win so in order to prevail in the close contests in 2013, the Gauchos must finish the opportunities that come their way and execute effectively out of set pieces. If they do that they will be able to dictate the tempo of play.
The healthy return of senior forward Achille Campion (6g, 1a) in 2013, who missed a large portion of the 2012 season due to injury, will be a big boost to the UCSB offense. Campion is the key to the Gaucho attack in 2013. Sophomore Charlie Miller (3g, 1a) is among other returning forwards with the size and athletic ability to be a difference maker. Junior forward Reed McKenna who transfers in from UCLA is among several newcomers with the potential to make an immediate contribution.
Sophomore midfielder Ema Boateng (4g, 4a), the Big West Freshman of the Year and an All-Big West First Team selection, is among other key returning players. Boateng’s quickness and the experience he gained last year will make him a force to contend with. He is an impact player with the ability to break a game open. Look for Boateng to continue to improve as he learns to play to his strengths.
Senior defensive midfielder Fifi Baiden (0g, 2a) may be the glue that holds everything together. Look for Baiden to be the guy who will set the pace for the Gauchos in 2013. Senior Goffin Boyoko (3g, 2), an NAIA All-American at Auburn University Montgomery before transferring to UCSB last year, will likely be counted on to play a greater role in 2013 due to the graduation of midfielders Nic Ryan (8g, 3a), Josue Madueno (1g, 0a) and Michael David (1g, 1a). Boyoko’s ability to add an additional dimension to the attack is among critical success factors heading into the 2013 campaign. Sophomores Duncan Backus and Adam Carn-Saferstein are among other returning midfielders who will compete for additional playing time in 2013.
The Gaucho backline which allowed a total of only eighteen goals last year has the potential to be very good in 2013. The return of senior center back Peter Schmetz who missed a significant portion of the season last year is a big positive. Senior center back Daniel Welsh, a 2012 All-Big West Second Team selection, is a very solid and tough defender. Senior Matthew Glodak (0g, 1a) who started twelve contests last year and sophomore Brandon Brockway who was a starter last year return to round out what looks to be a very capable back line. Junior Kevin Garcia-Lopez is among other returning players who will vie for a greater role in 2013. Isaiah Trejo who transfers in from Louisville is among the newcomers who could contribute on the defense side of the ball right away.
Sophomore Austin Mansker who assumed the starting job in goal last year returns. Manasker performed well but the experience and the lessons he learned from the 2012 season should enhance his performance and confidence in 2013. Sophomore Nick Savino and highly regarded incoming freshman Josh McNeely out of the LA Galaxy Academy program will also compete for playing time between the pipes.
The 2012 season was UC Santa Barbara’s twelfth consecutive winning campaign. Vom Steeg knows what it takes to win; and looks to be going about the process of putting everything back together in 2013. There are question marks but the necessary pieces appear to be on board for UC Santa Barbara to jump back upward in the Big West Conference race in 2013 and to again be a factor on the national scene.
However there is no getting around the fact that things are a little less certain heading into the 2013 campaign at UC Santa Barbara than in the past. The good news is that the question marks have the potential to facilitate positive change and a renewed focus on the basics. It also should make the season an interesting one for a Gaucho nation that has led the country in attendance for six consecutive seasons and will no doubt be out in force once again in 2013.
Josh McNeely - Goalkeeper - Hidden Hills, California - Played for the LA Galaxy. Rated by CSN as the number 93 player in the class of 2013.
Drew Murphy - Midfielder - Palos Verdes, California - Played for the LA Galaxy. Rated by CSN as the number 86 player in the class of 2013.
Nick DePuy - Midfielder - Denver , Colorado - Regis Jesuit High School - Played for the Real Colorado Soccer Academy. Lead Real Colorado in goals scored. All-State selection.
John Rehl - Defender - Castle Pines, Colorado - Rock Canyon High School - Played for the Real Colorado Soccer Academy. All-State selection.
Andrew Perez - Midfielder - The Harker School - Played for San Jose Earthquakes Academy.
Armand Bagramyan - Forward - La Canada High School - All-CIF First Team selection.
Ismala Jome - Forward - Prairie Seeds Academy - Played club for Minnesota Thunder. Named the 2012 Minnesota State High School Soccer
Reed McKenna - Forward - San Diego, California - Rancho Bernardo High School - Junior transfer from UCLA where he played in ten games in 2012. Played with San Diego Surf Academy.
Isaiah Trejo - Defender - Clovis, California - Buchanan High School - Junior transfer from Louisville. Played in twenty-three games at Louisville. Played with the California Odyssey.
Adis Islamovic - Midfielder -San Diego, California - Westview High School - Junior transfer from NAIA Southern Polytechnic. 2010 Division II Player of the Year at Westview.