UC Santa Barbara 2017 Team and Recruiting Class Review

School:  UC Santa Barbara
Conference:  Big West
Coach:  Tim Vom Steeg - 19th Season
2016 Record:  10-7-3 overall - 6-1-3 in conference 
2016 Final Season Ending National Rank: NA 

Key Losses from the 2016 Team:  Forward Nick DePuy (6g, 2a), midfielders Josue Espana (1g, 7a) and Andy Perez (0g, 3a) due to graduation.

Forward Ahinga Selemani and midfielder Lamar Batisa who elected to leave early to enter the professional ranks.  

Five Year Win Total:

2012:  10

2013:  12

2014:  10

2015:  14

2016:  10

2016 Goals Scored and Goals Against: 31 goals scored and 28 goals allowed.  
Key 2016 Statistic: UCSB was ranked 82nd in the final 2016 RPI.  

Background: Under the direction of Tim Vom Steeg, who became the UCSB head coach in 1999, the Gauchos have become the frontrunner in the Big West Conference and have made their mark on the national scene. 

You need look no further than the number of fans in the stands at Harder Stadium to see the enthusiasm surrounding the program at UCSB. The success the program has enjoyed has been good for UCSB, west coast soccer, and college soccer in general. 

The Gauchos rose to prominence on the West Coast and on the national scene when they advanced to the College Cup (Final Four) in 2004 and again in 2006 when they also won the national championship. The standard of excellence at UCSB and thus expectations were forever raised by the success the program achieved those two seasons.

UCSB has earned a total of twelve NCAA Tournament berths with the first occurring in 2002 and the most recent being the 2015 season in which they were awarded the number fifteen seed and the 2013 season in which they were awarded the number ten seed.  The Gauchos have advanced to the Sweet Sixteen seven times with the last being the 2015 season. They have also won ten Big West Conference Championships.

UCSB was 10-7-3 overall in 2016 with a 6-1-3 mark in conference play. They finished 2016 regular season play as the number one seed in the Big West Conference North Division securing their fourth consecutive division title. 

UC Santa Barabara has historically not played their best soccer or to their potential in the Big West Conference Tournament. That was again the case in 2016. The Gauchos have advanced to the championship match of the Big West Tournament a total of five times. However the 2010 season was the only time in which they have won the Conference Tournament since it began in 2008.

The Gaucho's 2016 season, and their hopes for a berth in the NCAA Tournament, came to an end when they were upset 2-1 at home by CS Fullerton in the semifinals of the Big West Conference Tournament.

Forward Nick DePuy was named the 2016 Big West Conference Offensive Player of the Year and Kevin Feucht was named the Midfielder of the Year.  Depuy and Feucht were named to the All-Big West Conference First team along with forward Ahinga Selemani and midfeilder Josue Espana. Goalkeeper Titouan Le Roux, midfielder Lamar Batista, and forward Noah Billingsley were named to the Big West Conference All-Freshman Team.   

Number Starters Returing in 2017 - Six 

Offense: Forward Nick DePuy (6g, 2a) and midfielders Josue Espana (1g, 7a) and Andy Perez (0g, 3a) are the key losses on the offensive side of the ball due to graduation. DePuy has been the go-to goal scorer in the UCSB attack for the past three seasons, Espana has been the team playmaker and pace setter, and Perez has been a very solid two-way player.

The Gauchos will also be without the services of speedy forward Ahinga Selemani (7g, 2a) who netted four game-winners last year and holding midfielder Lamar Batista (0g, 1a) whose role in 2016 increased as the season progressed. Selemani elected to forgo his senior season and Batista elected to leave after his freshman campaign to enter the professional ranks. 

The offensive cupboard will not be bare heading into 2017 but it will need to be restocked. The good news in that regard is that senior midfielder Kevin Feucht (11g, 2a), who was the Gaucho's leading goal scorer and an effective ball winner last year, returns to power the attack.

Sophomore forward/midfielder Noah Billingsley (2g, 3a) who stated ten of UCSB's last thirteen contests in 2016 also returns. Sophomore Daniel Amo (2g, 1a) who started seven contests last year but whose playing time was hampered by injury is a very capable option in the midfield or in the back. Junior Kosti Moni who appeared in thirteen games with one start last year is among other returning midfielders who will seek to play a greater role in 2016. Senior Seo-In Kim who utilized a redshirt in 2016 due to injury may also be in the mix in the midfield.

For it all to come together for UCSB in 2017 on the offensive side of the ball, Feucht will again have to play a key role and several newcomers will have to make an immediate impact to add balance to the attack. That can be problematic and a lot to ask but the pieces are potentially on board to make it feasible. 

Sophomore forward Ignacio Tellechea who was an NAIA All-American at West Virginia Tech and freshmen forwards Kaya Fabretti out of the San Jose Earthquakes Academy and Rodney Michael out of the Santa Barbara Soccer Club are among the new additions who could contribute immediaely up-top.

Sophomore midfielder Joseph Ammer who transfers in from Florida Southern is a playmaker who could help fill the void that that exists due to the graduation of Espana. Junior midfielder Hanno Antoni who was a Division II All-American at Barry College could also have an immediate impact in the midfield. 

Defense: The Gauchos entered the 2016 season with a lot of voids to fill on the defensive side of the ball. Unless there are additonal departures, that will not be the case in 2017 as a solid core of experienced players are slated to return.

The Gauchos improved on the defensive side of the ball as the season progressed last year but the fact that they allowed a total of twenty-eight goals makes this an area where the opportunity for additional improvement exists in 2017. After beginning the 2016 season with four wins, the Gauchos lost five straight including three games at home followed by a tie with UC Riverside in their opening Big West Conference contest. During that six game stretch opponents took advantage of a rather porous UCSB defense to score a total of seventeen goals.   

Seniors Jeff Quezada and Josue Salgado return at center back. Sophomore Daniel Amo is another potential option at center back. Senior Randy Mendoza (0g, 2a) who has been a starter the past two seasons and junior Dalton Pando (2g, 3a) who played in nineteen contests last year with eight starts are among returning outside backs. In the traditional UCSB mold, both Mendoza and Pando have the ability to push forward from the outside to add an additional dimension to the offense. 

Seniors Alex Liua, juniors Sam Strong and Jan Ilskens (0g, 1a), and sophomores Mateo Restrepo Mejia (0g, 1a) and Kyle Perno are among other returning players who also look to be in the mix for a greater role in the back or in the midfield in 2017.

Back Adam Ek who transfers in from Santa Monica College and freshmen Rhys Pak and Pablo Adrian Adames are among several newcomers who look to have the potential to challenge for minutes in 2017 on the defensive side of the ball. 

Sophomore Titouan La Roux, the starter last year with a 1.32 goals against average and five shoutouts, returns in goal along with senior Brandon Berke who was between the pipes for UCSB's final two contests of the 2016 campaign. Junior transfer Ricardo Montoy, the starter at Taft College for the past two seasons, could also challenge for playing time in goal.  

Newcomers:

Tim Vom Steeg stated, "Thanks to the work of the entire coaching staff, we are continuing to bring in young players who we believe will develop over time to become some of he best players in the conntry."  

Vom Steeg added, "We are also keenly aware with the earlier movement of players to professional soccer that we have to sign a certain number of transfer students who can provide us the maturity and experience to win games now while we spend the time needed to develop our younger players."

Kaya Fabbretti - Forward - San Jose, California - Branham High School - Played for the San Jose Earthquakes Academy netting a total of forty-six goals and contributing thirty-two assists during three seasons. Ranked by College Soccer News as the number nineteen player in the class of 2017. 

Omari Fontes - Defender - Sacramento, California - Played for San Juan Academy and Sac Republic FC. Regional ODP player for three years.   

Rodney Michael - Forward - Freetown, Sierra Leone - Dunn School - Played for the Santa Barbara Soccer Club. Three-year starter at Dunn School where he scored sixty-two career goals. First Team All-CIF. Earned Best-XI honors at 2016 U-18 National Championship.  

Rhys Pak - Defender - Santa Cruz, California - Pacific Collegiate High School - Played for the San Jose Earthquakes and the De Anza Force. Ranked by College Soccer News as the number one-hundred player in the class of 2017. 

Pablo Adrian Adames - Defender - Bilbao, Spain - Played for Santutxu FC in the second highest youth league in Spain. 

Kavian Kashani - Defender - Los Angeles, California - Palisades High School - Played for the Orange County Blues FC. 

Giovanny Acosta - Defender - Santa Paula, California - Played for the Santa Barbara Soccer Club. 

Hanno Antoni - Midfielder - Mannheim, Germany - Berry College - A graduate student who transfers after two seasons at Barry College in Miami where he was a Division II First Team All-American.  

Adam Ek - Defender - Played at the AIk Academy in Sweden from U-15 through U-21. Played for Suffolk County Community College and Santa Monica College. First Team All-Region. 

Ignacio Tellechea - Forward - Madrid, Spain - Sophomore transfer from West Virginia Tech. NAIA All-American. Netted thirteen goals last year. 

Joseph Ammer - Midfielder - Dornwang, Germany - Sophomore transfer from Florida Southern College. Played for SSV Jahn Regensburg. Scored five goals and had five assists at Florida Southern last year before his season ended due to injury. 

Prognosis for 2017:  Despite the number of unanswered questions that exist, expectations and the level of excitement surrounding the program will be high at UC Santa Barbara heading into the 2017 season. They have been ever since Tim Vom Steeg took over the reigns of the program in 1999 and the Gauchos posted a thirteen win season.

No matter how you spin it, UCSB took a slight step backward last year by their own standards with a season that included losses in their final two contests. The Gauchos closed out regular season play with a 1-0 loss to UC Davis at Harder Stadium followed by a disappointing 2-1 loss at home to CS Fullerton in the semifinals of the Big West Tournament. In the loss to CS Fullerton, the Gauchos inexplicably came out flat in a must win contest and never really seemed to get fully on track.

The early exit from the tournament combined with an RPI in the 80's caused the curtain to fall on the Gauchos' 2016 season and ended any chance of a berth in the NCAA Touranment.

To state the obvious, Vom Steeg and UCSB want better in 2017. This is a program where post season play normally includes more than just earning a spot in the conference tournament. A ten win season and a regular season Big West Conference North Division title in 2016 have merit but were not enough to secure a berth in the NCAA Tourney.   

So what might be expected from UCSB in 2017?  Obviously losing forward Nick DePuy, the first-ever three-time Big West Offensive Player of the Year, leaves a big hole to fill on the offensive side of ball. DePuy was an impact player who found the back of the net a total of thirty-one times during his four year tenure at UCSB. DePuy's productivity in 2016, measured solely from the standpoint of goals scored, was lower than is past seasons but that was in large part due to the fact that he was the focus of opposing defenders. His absence will mean that others, particularly Kevin Feucht, will face additional pressure.  

The decision of forward Ahinga Selemani who was a two-year starter to forgo his senior season and the graduation of senior playmaker Josue Espana adds to the void that must be plugged. 

On the plus side of the ledger senior midfielder Feucht who had a breakout year in 2016 during which he netted a team-leading eleven goals returns in 2017. Feucht, a 2016 All-Big West First Team selection, is a very capable and talented finisher.

Sophomore foward/midfielder Noah Billingsley, whose resume includes membership on the U-20 New Zeland National team, is also a very capable finisher who now has the benefit of a year of playing time at UCSB under his belt.

The ability of transfers like forward Ignacio Tellechea and midfielders Joseph Ammer, and Hanno Antoni and highly regarded freshman Kaya Fabretti to provide offensive punch is among the critical success factor for UCSB in 2017.

Another is improvement on the defensive side of the ball and the avoidance of costly lapses in lapses in play. Vom Steegs ability to find the right combination early on that will yield the desired level of consistency, organization, stability, and tenacity is a factor in this regard. Solid defensive play from the get-go always helps to buy a little time for the offense to gel.

The Gauchos have added a very good recruiting class that is ranked by College Soccer News as the number fifteen class in the country. It consists of seven freshman and five transfers. Vom Steeg has successfully utilized the transfer route in the past to strategically address gaps. The transfer option provides immediate experiece which is a plus but the downside is that it can create chemistry problems since players don't have the time to grow into the program.

With so many new faces, it could take a while for everyone to get comfortable with each other and on the same page. Therefore the ability of the coaching staff to successfully merge the newcomers in with returning players is another key in 2017.

It is also noteworthy that there is much more parity from top to bottom in the Big West Conference now than in the past. The gap that once existed between the top one or two teams in the conference and eveyone else no longer exists. That means the Gauchos, who enter every conference contest with a target of their chests, can't take anyone for granted. Add focus and the ability to take the season one contest at a time to the list of critical success factors for UCSB in 2017.

The pieces may be on board for a successful 2017 season. The bottom line question is whether or not they will fit.  As a result UC Santa Barbara will enter the 2017 season a bit of a mystery.