Look out, college soccer. Not only has the UCSB men’s soccer team brought the school its second national championship, the coaching staff has used the squad’s recent success to assemble a recruiting class with perhaps the most potential in school history.
The newcomers will not only fill the void left by departing players, but they will also help fill out one of the deepest teams in the country. The days when UCSB could be decimated by injury are likely gone, and the Gauchos are now in a position to be successful for years to come.
“This recruiting class is one where we didn’t recruit out of necessity; we recruited players that we feel like in one year will be starters,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “Ciaran O’Brien is the #1 transfer in the country, and steps right in and replaces Tyler [Rosenlund] in the middle. [Kristopher] Minton is regarded as the top goalkeeper in Southern California, and is someone I think will be a future goalkeeper here and be a star.”
The Gauchos once again tapped the New Zealand pipeline for talent, reminding UCSB fans of Kiwi alumni Tony Lochhead and current Assistant Coach Neil Jones, who each played an instrumental role in the team’s 2004 College Cup run. Defender Michael Boxall and attacker Sam Jenkins – both members of New Zealand’s Under-20 Youth National Team – will join Santa Barbara next season, looking to make an immediate impact.
“I feel like the two players from New Zealand complete the class, in a way,” Vom Steeg said. “Sam [Jenkins] is an attacking player and is very quick and aggressive going toward the goal, and has a left foot and a right foot. Boxall is a center back in the mold of [senior defender] Andy Iro and we feel that this will allow us to give Andy some time off.”
In addition to Rosenlund, UCSB will have to replace midfielders Bryan Byrne and Eric Frimpong, defender Jeff Murphy, and goalkeeper Kyle Reynish. Minton will redshirt the 2007 campaign, as freshman Bryant Rueckner has emerged as the favorite for the starting spot in goal. With counterpart Jason Badger out with an injury, Rueckner finished the spring with four shutouts.
Sophomore Eric Avila will move from center midfield to the wing to replace Byrne, meaning the Gauchos’ midfield pairing of Rosenlund and Avila from last season will have to be replaced. O’Brien will step in to fill the middle, bringing collegiate experience from his stint with the University of San Diego, where he was named to the Freshman All-American team. Junior midfielder Alfonso Motagalvan is the leading candidate to pair with O’Brien as the defensive center midfielder.
“One player who has really solidified his spot this spring has been Alfonso [Motagalvan],” Vom Steeg said. “He gives us a lot of intangibles. He followed up the [NCAA] final with a very good spring, where he gives us a lot of communication, he connects, and he’s a very smart player.”
With seven seniors on next season’s roster, Santa Barbara will have plenty of holes to fill in the future. This recruiting class is a step in the right direction for a team that is poised to continue the success of its predecessors.