The Gauchos turned in an impressive resume when it came time to schedule opponents this season: 10-0-0 at home, 9-0-1 in the Big West, first NCAA playoff win in school history and record books shattered.

The 2002 season for the men’s soccer team will be hard to duplicate, but with a stacked roster of players returning from last season’s playoff run, the Gauchos are poised to make a run at the national championship.

“There’s pressure to repeat last year’s success, but our sights are set a lot higher than last year,” junior goalkeeper Danny Kennedy said.

With the departure of team leader and top goal scorer Rob Friend to the Chicago Fire, the team will rely on a bevy of talented young players. Junior forward Drew McAthy returns as the Gauchos’ leading goal scorer, coming off of a breakout season in which he netted 17 goals, second in the Big West behind Friend. McAthy has already recorded six goals this season, including a hat trick in a 4-0 win at North Carolina State University on September 5th.

Senior midfielder Memo Arzate, the centerpiece of the offense, will try to match his record-breaking season from a year ago. Arzate recorded 18 assists, a new school record, in his first year at UCSB after transferring from Compton Community College. Arzate is off to a hot start again, recording four assists and two goals in the first six games of the season. The offense runs through Arzate, and he will be counted on to set up the big goal scorers on offense.

The list of talented offensive weapons continues for the Gauchos. Senior midfielder David McGill, second on the team last season with 15 assists, provides speed on the outside for UCSB. This past week, College Soccer News voted for the twelve deadliest forward duos in the nation, and on the list was the tandem of McAthy and senior forward Neil Jones. Jones, injured for the last part of the 2002 season, is second on the team with three goals in 2003. Jones and junior defender Tony Lochhead were selected to play for New Zealand’s Olympic squad in a game against Japan. Forwards senior Gene Deering, freshman Johnny Alcaraz, junior Matt Bly and midfielders junior John Apilado, senior Darren Doi and senior Matt Kubota will all play major roles for the Gaucho offense this year. The offense, which finished second in the nation a year ago with a +2.14 margin, should continue to put up big numbers with its amazing depth of talent.

But offense will not be the concern this year for UCSB Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg. The Gauchos lost their leader on the defense, Dan Young, to graduation and Alan Keely, the freshman defensive player of the year in the Big West, who transferred. Santa Barbara will rely on Lochhead and sophomore Pat Scott to neutralize the opposing attacks. With so much change from a year ago, this will be the line that makes or breaks the Gauchos’ chances of a deep playoff run and possible National Championship.

“The critical thing for us remains how well we cover people in the back,” Vom Steeg said. “We’re still a little bit loose in the back and that’s the area of the game we have to keep working on.”

Should the defense falter, junior goalkeeper Danny Kennedy will be the Gauchos’ last line of defense. Not a bad option to fall back on, though, as Kennedy posted seven shutouts a year ago, and is currently fourth on the Big West career shutout list with 16. Kennedy went through a streak of four games in which he didn’t allow a goal. The team feeds off Kennedy’s impressive play in goal, and will continue to count on him throughout the year.

Tim Vom Steeg returns for his fifth season. Through six games this season, Vom Steeg has compiled a 55-25-5 record. An alumnus of UCSB, Vom Steeg was Head Coach at Santa Barbara City College, amassing a 121-18-4 record, before coming to the Gauchos. Vom Steeg is the reason for the Gauchos’ big turnaround, and led Santa Barbara to their first postseason win ever last year against University of San Diego. Assistants Leo Chappel and Ryan Sparre complete the talented coaching staff. UCSB continues to bring in big-time recruits due to the quality, expertise and personalities of the highly professional staff.

Despite the losses of key players Friend, Young and Keely, Santa Barbara returns too much talent to not improve on its second round exit from a year ago. The Gauchos will be faster and more experienced and should stay in the top 10 of the national rankings all season long. A Dec. 12, 2004 date at the NCAA College Cup is within the reach of the 2003 UCSB Gauchos, and the players know it’s a possibility.