September 8, 2011

German pair have Gauchos' back

By Mark Patton, Santa Barbara News-Press

Two recruits from Germany are adjusting to the strange, new world called Soccer Heaven - a place where tortillas are tossed after every goal and the students surf right onto campus.

"The water is kind of cold, but not as cold as Germany, for sure," said Andre Grandt, UCSB's junior goalkeeper from Wolfsburg, after a workout in 80-degree weather. "When we get spare time, we get the chance to go to the beach.

"How nice is that?"

But surfing the internet proved even more startling for countryman Peter Schmetz of Dusseldorf when he stumbled upon ... Peter Schmetz.

"I like to follow the news, and I was on the Big West web site, and all of a sudden my picture appeared," the sophomore center back said. "I was thinking, 'What is this?' "

It's how Schmetz learned about his Big West Conference Defensive Player of the Week Award - another foreign concept for the German Gauchos.

"We don't have these kind of things back home," Schmetz said. "For us, it's awkward - that you're most valuable player and all that stuff. It's nice, but it's just one week, and there's more than one week in the season."

His Alien Encounter of the First Kind actually came on Sunday when he was voted Defensive Most Valuable Player at the Duke/Nike Classic following the Gauchos' championship run.

"People were coming up and saying, 'You got most valuable player!' - and I was going, 'I got what?' " Schmetz said. "There are no such things as rankings in Germany, either. That kind of attention is weird for Germans."

But like it or not, Schmetz and Grandt have become real achtung-grabbers for UCSB soccer. Their defensive efforts helped thwart 22nd-ranked Duke in Friday's 3-2, overtime win and then blank North Carolina State 1-0 on Sunday. The Gauchos will take a 3-0 record into Friday night's Harder Stadium showdown against No. 12 West Virginia.

"We've added two players who we knew were coming from good soccer backgrounds, and were committed and hard-working, and obviously passionate about winning," coach Tim Vom Steeg said. "You don't really know how that's going to translate until you put them onto the field, but certainly for the first three games of the season, they've both played really well."

Grandt stood out in goal, helping UCSB withstand a flurry of second-half shots from Duke.

"The two saves he made were truly great," Vom Steeg said. "He really understands that his strength is staying under the crossbar - he might be as good a shot blocker as we've had since Kyle Reynish.

"He's very quick and has a tremendous understanding of the game."

At 6-foot-6, Schmetz stands out the second he takes the field.

"In our country, a kid that tall probably doesn't take up soccer until he's about 13 or 14, and then when he grows to 6-5 or 6-6, he's suddenly playing volleyball or basketball," Vom Steeg said. "But in Germany, he's put at left center back at an early age.

"What we have is a guy who has good skills and touch on the ball, and who grew up playing that position."

Schmetz admitted that his mother, Theresa, was a serious basketball player in her day.

"I tried it when I was really young, but my dad won that battle," he said. "Soccer is much bigger than basketball in Germany, so it was not a hard decision, actually."

Seattle tried matching up against Schmetz with a 6-6 player of its own but was forced to pull him during the first half of UCSB's 3-1 victory. Schmetz even scored the Gauchos' last goal - and with his foot, not his head.

"When you find these guys in America, they have no technique at all, they have no footwork," Schmetz said. "I mean, I grew up in a soccer country. Maybe if I grew up here, I would've played basketball at a D-2 school or something.

"So I'm pretty happy with where I'm at."

Schmetz was at Westmont College last season while trying to gain admission as a 21-year-old business economics major.

Grandt, who led Tyler College of Texas to a pair of national junior college championships, also transferred in as a business econ student. At 23, he is the oldest Gaucho.

They're all-business on the field, as well. Both have extensive international experience.

"I'm the type of goalie who speaks a lot, and likes to organize his defense," said Grandt, who got 13 years of training in the Youth Academy of Wolfsburg.

Vom Steeg, who is in his 13th season at UCSB, had never coached a German before this season.

"I'm finding that their attention to detail is unbelievable," he said. "It was that way with both players all through the recruiting process, too.

"It's usually very complicated and involved with international students, but Andre and Peter both pretty much did it all themselves."

It reached humorous proportions when the subject of student housing arose.

"Andre sent a description of the perfect place for him - a little room with a view, all the way down to the kind of blinds he wanted," Vom Steeg said. "That kind of carries over to how meticulous he is on the field, too.

"He'll say, 'I need to have a player here, and there, and here.' "

At 6-foot, Grandt - like all-leaguer Sam Hayden before him - is shorter than many Division 1 goalkeepers. But his style is much different than the high-leaping cowboy from Wyoming.

"Sam never saw a ball he didn't like and want to go after," Vom Steeg said. "But everything Andre does is very calculated. It's because he saw this and this and this, and he'll error on the side of letting his defenders do something in front of him rather than get out of position.

"What's really worked well for us is the relationship between Andre and Peter. What Andre really needs is for Peter to win those head balls and take care of that, and Peter does."

They also use a secret weapon against the opposition called language.

"I'll be telling Peter in German what to do to keep his player from scoring, and the forward won't be able to understand what I'm saying," Grandt said. "The other team gives us funny looks sometimes, especially when I'm getting angry and cursing in German."

Grandt and Schmetz bring still another flag to a team that includes players from Ireland, Peru, Canada, Ghana, Nigeria and the Congo.

The United Nations approach worked well at Tyler, too, which had only four Americans on its roster.

"Each country has its own philosophy on soccer that it brings to the team, and makes you stronger," Grandt said. "If we had only Germans on the field, maybe we wouldn't have the technique of the African guy."

His pregame music, either.

"We'll have this African disco going on in the back of the bus, with music and singing and all that stuff," Schmetz said. "We have the Canadian guy, and he's crazy. We have a Peruvian, and we have the Germans.

"It's a cultural mix, and it's a good thing. It can actually be a pretty funny thing."

Even to a business-econ major from Dusseldorf.

Mark Patton's column appears on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Email: mpatton@newspress.com