After going 11 games to start the season without losing and earning a national ranking as high as No. 3, the UCSB men’s soccer team fell to Cal State Northridge Oct. 7.
From there began a downward spiral, with the Gauchos losing six of their final eight games of the year. Santa Barbara finished last in the North Division of the Big West, compiling a losing Big West record for the first time since 1991 and failing to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 11 seasons.
“At one point in the season, we were 8-0-2 and it felt like we were in a really good position to not only make a playoff run but to compete for national championship,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “Then, over the course of three weekends we started to lose players (to injury). We lost Campion, Schmetz and then it went from there. By the last game of the season, we had seven starters from the start of the year out.”
The team loses six seniors to graduation this year, including midfielders Machael David and Nic Ryan. David was known for his control on the ball as defensive midfielder, but also tallied 10 assists during his career.
Ryan, the reigning Big West Midfielder of the Year, led UCSB and ranked third in the Big West in goals with eight.
“We lose a group of players which had been four-year key contributors,” Vom Steeg said. “We definitely lose some key players out of our midfield, but the fact is that it’s not as much about what you lose as what you return.”
With the majority of the team still intact and seven starters returning, UCSB will look to continue its excellence as one of the country’s premier soccer programs next season. To help, UCSB brings in a big recruiting class composed of eight freshmen and four transfers.
Headlining UCSB’s recruiting class are forward Reed McKenna and defender Isaiah Trejo, who are already at UCSB and played with the Gauchos during their spring season.
“Both these players are expected to contribute right away, which is why we brought them here in spring,” Vom Steeg said. “We’re very familiar with both these recruits because these are players we recruited out of high school.”
McKenna will fill a big weakness of UCSB’s from last season, which was putting the ball in the back of the net. The junior comes to UCSB after two seasons at UCLA and is a former No. 2-ranked Southern California player.
“Last year when we started to lose our players to injury, we just stopped scoring goals,” Vom Steeg said. “Reed McKenna will go a long way toward filling that void. We need somebody to play with Campion, who had the ability to score 12 or 13 goals, so that’s why Reed is an important player to our team.”
Trejo, a Clovis, CA native, returns to California after two years at Louisville. As a result, Trejo comes with lots of experience, playing for a program that competed for the national championship two years ago.
“Trejo is an attacking wide player that can play in back,” Vom Steeg said. “We’ve always had that player that can come out of the back and attack wide. Trejo will give us the ability to attack out of the back.”
Another transfer for UCSB is midfielder Adis Islamovic from Southern Polytechnic State University. There, he led his team to a 2012 NAIA Elite Eight appearance, earning second-team All-SSAC while tallying nine goals and five assists during the season.
“[Adis] is a very good player who was unable to come here directly out of high school. He decided to go play a year in Germany,” Vom Steeg said. “He is an attacking midfielder. With the players we lost in David, Ryan and Josue Madueno, he is a player that can fill in that role.”
As for the freshmen, three players that could make an immediate impact are goalkeeper Josh McNeely and midfielders Drew Murphy and Nick DePuy.
McNeely has played for both the Los Angeles Galaxy Academy and the U.S. Soccer Development Academy. He was also a starter for the 2011 U.S. Soccer Academy National Championship team. With senior André Grandt graduating, McNeely fills the gap of a second goalkeeper.
UCSB also brings in a teammate of McNeely’s from the Los Angeles Galaxy Academy, Drew Murphy. While playing with the Galaxy, Murphy also trained with the MLS Champion first team and was a member of the 2011 U.S. Soccer Academy’s National Championship team.
“We’ll have to see which of the freshmen are able to step up to this level and that’s a little bit hard to tell,” Vom Steeg said. “I think we are particularly high on those that are playing at a high level (right now). The two players we have playing for the Galaxy, Josh and Drew, are two players because of where they’re playing right now at one of the top, if not the top club team in the country, so you might expect that they could contribute right away.”
Finally, Nick DePuy becomes a Gaucho after earning the co-captain spot for Real Colorado, which went to the 2011 Region IV Quarterfinals and the Colorado State Championship. In addition, at Regis Jesuit High, DePuy led the team in goals and earned All-State and All-Conference honors.
“[Nick’s] another midfielder who we feel has played at a high level and could contribute in the midfield,” Vom Steeg said. “We have a group of midfielders that we’re bringing in, so along with [Fifi Baiden], the big question going into the fall will be who plays in those other two or three spots based on who we play?”
The slew of incoming players for UCSB will join seven returning starters next season, including 2012 all-Big West First Team member Baiden and the Big West Freshman of the Year, Ema Boateng.
“What we are returning is basically seven starters and six of them are seniors,” Vom Steeg said. “There’s a lot to be excited about in terms of what’s returning.”
The Gauchos will start their season August 24 against Westmont, marking the beginning of an exciting preseason schedule that includes teams such as Penn, UCLA and Yale.
A version of this article appeared on page 10 of May 15th’s edition of the Daily Nexus.
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