Recruiting is one thing. Meshing a group of talented individuals into a cohesive, championship caliber unit, all while making the necessary adjustments along the way, is another. UCSB men’s soccer Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg has shown he can do both as well as any other coach in the country.
Heading into this year’s amazing soccer run, expectations for the Gaucho program were undeniably high. This club was arguably as talented on paper as the 2004 squad that made the school’s first-ever College Cup appearance, but stumbled when it came to finding a consistent groove. At one point, Santa Barbara was 7-6 after losing to perennial doormat UC Riverside on the road, putting their hopes for a Big West title and NCAA Tournament berth in serious jeopardy.
“Part of me was leaning toward scrapping the rest of the season and start working toward next year,” Vom Steeg said. “We didn’t handle the pressure of being a conference favorite well at all.”
This is when the two-time NSCAA/adidas National Coach of the Year really went to work. Somehow, someway, Vom Steeg and the Gauchos reeled off four straight wins en route to an 11-1 finish, culminating in the school’s second national championship. The underperforming squad seemed to figure itself out overnight, immediately beginning to play much improved soccer at both ends of the field.
After the Riverside loss, UCSB went on to post four straight shutouts and allowed more than one goal in a match just once the rest of the way. Vom Steeg was able to get the most out of senior goalkeeper Kyle Reynish, who had a less than stellar beginning to his second season between the pipes, including letting five goals slip through in a 5-0 loss to rival Cal State Northridge.
“He really pushed us seniors to carry the load and we responded,” Reynish said. “Everyone kind of realized how close our season was to being over, and he was the main part why.”
After struggling to find the back of the net early in the season without a consistent striker after the departure of Ivan Becerra last year, the Gaucho offense came alive just in time for the playoffs. Vom Steeg lit a fire under Santa Barbara’s strikers, and UCSB scored at least two goals in six of its final seven contests after reaching the two-goal plateau just five times in its first 18 tries.
“Somehow, Tim always knew what adjustments we needed to make,” sophomore forward Nick Perera said. “Especially in the playoffs, he always had the right guys in there to match up well with other teams. Different people were finding [playing] time every game.”
Vom Steeg proved during the 2006 season that he knows how to get the most out of his players, especially when everything is on the line. The college soccer community gave UCSB little thought at the outset of its difficult NCAA Tournament run, and even less when facing off against traditional soccer powerhouses in the College Cup. But in the end, it was the Gauchos and their coach on top of the world.