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The UCSB men’s soccer team finished this season with a loss to Penn State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament after capturing the regular season Big West Conference title. With six seniors graduating, five of them starters, the Gauchos will certainly rely on younger players to elevate the team, especially on the strong class of 11 incoming freshmen next season.
“We were in a position where we thought we had a really good opportunity to bring in players who could contribute right away because of their level of play, where they played and their ability and talent,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “We didn’t feel like we had to venture much into the transfer market. I believe this is the first year where we have a recruiting class that does not have a transfer on it.”
Overall, UCSB adds three forwards, four midfielders, three defenders and a goalkeeper for a recruiting class that is ranked No. 8 in the nation by Top Drawer Soccer.
“I’d be excited as a fan of Gaucho soccer. Come see the MLS players today before they show up tomorrow, and you’re going to see a lot of that over the next couple of years,” Vom Steeg said. “Next year’s conference freshman of the year will come from this recruiting class.”
Highlighting the forward class is Sacramento native Dalton Pando, who played club ball with the San Jose Earthquake Academy of the USSF. Pando was ranked No. 50 in Top Drawer Soccer’s top 150 academy players while also receiving the rank of No. 19 forward in the nation and No. 4 player from Northern California Region.
Also coming from the San Jose Earthquake Academy is forward Alex Liua. The Los Altos native paired with Pando to form a dangerous attack for the Earthquake and will look to continue that next season for UCSB.
Rounding out the forwards is Denis Kalamar of Seattle. Kalamar played for the Seattle Sounders Academy for three years and received a Top Drawer Soccer No. 10 ranking in the Pacific Northwest Region for his play.
“I think a player like Adonis, like Kalamar, Pando, those are attacking players that can go onto a field and change it,” Vom Steeg said. “Alex is another player who attacks. Any of the guys who attack will have an opportunity to play for us next year.”
Three players from the L.A. Galaxy Academy headline the midfield group of the Gauchos’ recruiting class. Adonis Amaya is the highest rated prospect coming in for the Gauchos as he received a No. 15 academy rating, No. 5 midfielder rating and a No. 4 rating in the Southern California Region. Amaya played defender for the U-17 U.S. National team and forward for the Galaxy.
Fellow Galaxy Academy player Axel Mendez joins the Gauchos as the No. 32 ranked prospect out of the Southern California Region, according to Top Drawer Soccer. Mendez brings an attacking style of play to the midfield position for UCSB.
“The first player that we got to commit from this whole group was actually Axel Mendez,” Vom Steeg said. “Axel is unique to us because we haven’t really had a playmaker out of midfield. He has a real opportunity to contribute right away because of the position he plays.”
Ryo Fujii also comes from the Galaxy Academy ranking No. 147 in the nation from the USSF Academy system. Fujii, a native of Torrance also ranks No. 21 in Southern California and is the No. 51 midfielder in the nation.
Ludwig Ahl is one of two international prospects in this season’s recruiting class hailing from Stockholm, Sweden. Ahl played for AIK Stockholm in Sweden’s top amateur league and was considered for the Swedish National Team.
“In the past, you’d be lucky to find one freshman starting at UCSB,” Vom Steeg said. “Next year, there’s a chance that we can have eight or nine freshman or sophomores starting on the field. I would be really surprised if at least three freshman didn’t start for us next year.”
The other international player is Julian Busch from Eichenau, Germany where he played for 1860 Munich. Busch played in the U-17 Bundesliga, the top amateur league in Germany against formidable competition from all over Europe.
“We feel like the international players are a little more mature,” Vom Steeg said. “Those are players that you think can contribute right away because they’re 20 (years old) and once again they have played at a high level.”
Santa Barbara will add a bit of east coast flair in Dugan Zier of New York. Zier played for the New York Red Bulls Academy and is one of eight USSF Academy players in the Gauchos recruiting class.
The fourth and final player hailing from the Galaxy Academy is Jeff Quezada. Quezada was team captain for the Galaxy Academy during his time there and played alongside the trio of midfielders in addition to current UCSB players Josh McNeely and Drew Murphy. All six players won a USSF National Title with the Galaxy Academy in 2011.
“We’re really high on Jeff Quezada. He’s got the respect of his team, he’s the captain of one of the top teams in the country, but again, he plays a really difficult position,” Vom Steeg said. “He’s going to have a great career here at UCSB, but because of the position he plays, there’s a big, huge learning curve there.”
Brandon Berke of De Anza Force SC rounds out the Gauchos’ recruiting class. Berke will most likely play backup to McNeely this season but provides the Gauchos with solid depth at the goalkeeper position.
With 11 new players joining an already talented and young squad, the Gauchos look to have a bright future atop the Big West Conference.
“We’ve really recruited the right type of kids with the right attitudes. I can’t say enough about these players that had the opportunity to go elsewhere; not only other colleges but obviously [they] do what they really want to do at some point, which is be a pro player, but instead they chose to play here at UCSB,” Vom Steeg said. “That is the attitude that will take us really far because I think players will be really committed to the team and committed to having a successful season.”
A version of this article appeared on page 10 of May 15, 2014’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo by Peter Vandenbelt of the Daily Nexus.