After missing the postseason for the first time in six seasons after injuries rattled the squad, the UCSB men’s soccer team looks to once again return to its place atop the Big West Conference this season. Picked to finish first in the Big West North Division by the media, the Gauchos enter this season with one goal in mind: Improvement.
“We have high expectations, but I feel like the expectations are based off of getting the players back who were hurt and the addition of some very, very good young players who I think are going to help us right away,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “I think those two ingredients are going to help us do very well this year.”
Headlining the returning Gauchos is senior defensive midfielder Fifi Baiden who garnered All-Big West First Team honors last season. Once again picked by the media as All-Big West in the preseason, Baiden will anchor a defensive backline that will be the strength of the Gauchos this season.
“Our back line is our strength. We have experience and we’ve played in so many games together,” Baiden said. “It’s actually really good for the team in terms of communicating and helping the new players to settle in with the team. It’s going to be the key for us this year.”
Also named as the No. 38 player in the entire country by TopDrawerSoccer.com, Baiden will look to lead the Gauchos this season with his usual defensive oriented play.
“It’s fun to be recognized and it shows that you’re doing something good,” Baiden said. “My philosophy, personally, I see myself as a team guy. I don’t want to force myself to do anything to hurt the team. Being recognized nationally also gives me the hope that I am not doing a bad job.”
Joining Baiden on the preseason list for top players nationwide includes senior forward Achille Campion at No. 100. Campion missed much of last year due to injury but will be the focus of the offensive attack this season for Santa Barbara.
“Our leading goal scorer literally would have been Campion, and of course, he got hurt some games in the season,” Vom Steeg said. “We anticipate him having a real big season for us. [Senior midfielder] Goffin Boyoko is another player who played hurt all last year. He’s another player who will give us goals.”
While defense certainly seems to be the strength for the Gauchos, it will be up to the pair of seniors in Boyoko and Campion, along with a talented group of newcomers to give the offensive attack some new life that was missing last season.
Included in the list of newcomers expected to contribute immediately are junior forward Reed McKenna, a transfer from UCLA, and a pair of freshman in midfielder Paul Ehmann and forward Ismaila Jome.
“We’re a bigger team (than last season),” Vom Steeg said. “We have a couple of players who can serve the ball very well and I think when you put that mix together, we’re going to be able to get some goals off of set pieces.”
UCSB plays its first regular season game against No. 19 Northwestern University on Friday in Evanston, Illinois. Kickoff is scheduled for 5 p.m. Pacific Time.
This article is an online exclusive and did not appear in the print edition of The Daily Nexus.
Photo by Jake Collins ofThe Daily Nexus.