August 16, 2012

Men’s Soccer Season Preview Part I: Locked and Loaded

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – New players. New names. New faces. That is the most simplistic way to describe the 2012 UCSB men's soccer team's offensive line.

After scoring 51 goals during the 2011 season – the most goals tallied by the squad since 2004 – the Gauchos saw the scorers of 39 of those goals depart to pursue professional opportunities and due to graduation. So, in the offseason, it became crucial for head coach Tim Vom Steeg and his coaching staff to reload the Gaucho offense.

Vom Steeg decided the best way to replace the players and the production that had been lost was to pursue a bevy of battle-tested transfers.

"We didn't want to drop off and feel like we had to start over again," Vom Steeg said. "So, basically we looked at the players that we lost and attempted to identify another player that did what they did, and possibly could even do it better."

A key to reloading the offense was filling the role occupied by forward Sam Garza, who after spending two seasons and tallying 44 points (17 goals, 10 assists) for the Gauchos, was drafted by the San Jose Earthquakes. Vom Steeg sees the speedy Dion Acoff, a transfer from 2011 College Cup qualifier Creighton, as the heir apparent to Garza's spot in the line up. A two-time Missouri Valley Conference honoree, Acoff posted 26 points (5 goals, 16 assists) in his three seasons with the Bluejays.

"We thought Dion was the best player that we played against when we faced Creighton in the playoffs," Vom Steeg said. "Dion might be one of the fastest players that has ever played at UCSB, he will stretch the defense and open things up."

The next piece of the puzzle that needed to be found was the replacement for David Opoku, who contributed 37 points (15 goals, 7 assists) for the Gauchos over the past two seasons.

"We always attempted to have a post-up player; a player who could hold onto the ball, who we could play off of on the attack," Vom Steeg said. "Big David wasn't suited for the role, he gave us some good goals and good production, but was a bit of a fish out of water. So we looked for a player that could really, in fact, play with his back to goal and hold goals up and give us more of a presence in the box; especially in the air."

The Gauchos will look toward Belhaven transfer Achille Campion to step into this role. The forward led the Blazers to consecutive national championship appearances and scored 21 goals in his two seasons with the team.

"We have always been a good team out wide, but we have struggled since (graduating) Neil Jones and Rob Friend, to find a forward who can finish balls with his head," Vom Steeg said. "Campion is a player who is very comfortable with his back to the goal, who is big bodied, and who is comfortable in that role. He is good around the box and can score goals."

Rounding out the group of forward transfers is a pair of junior college products: Javier Castro and Cesar Castillo.

Castro helped lead Mt. San Antonio College to consecutive Community College Championships and garnered 2010 South Coach Conference Offensive Player of the Year honors. During his two seasons with the Mounties, he accumulated 23 goals and a whopping 21 assists.

Castillo comes to UCSB from Cerritos College where he was an All-South Coast Conference honoree. He posted 53 points in his two seasons (19 goals, 14 assists). 

The lone returning starter for UCSB in the front is 2011 All-Big West Honorable Mention, Dom Sarle. The forward was fourth on the squad last season – and tops among 2012 returners – in points with 18 (four goals, 10 assists) and was tied for first on the team in helpers. Sarle provided some of the Gauchos' biggest goals of the season, scoring against Duke, Akron, UC Irvine, and Providence in the NCAA Tournament Second Round.

"Dom is our best returning player," Vom Steeg said. "He had a really good season last year, but was a little in the shadows of Garza and (Luis) Silva," Vom Steeg said.

Redshirt freshman Charlie Miller will also provide further depth to the Gaucho offense. The Servite High School graduate was the 2011 Trinity League Offensive Player of the Year.

With the combination of Sarle and the new additions up front, UCSB is looking to build upon its impressive offensive output last season.

"Hopefully we got it right; got the right mix and the right compliment of offensive players," Vom Steeg said. "We feel like we have replaced – and to an extent – upgraded a bit. Only time will tell."

The UCSB men's soccer team will kick-off its 2012 campaign this Saturday, Aug. 18 with an exhibition against Westmont at 7 p.m. at Meredith Field at Harder Stadium. Prior to the match, fans have the opportunity to visit with the 2012 Gauchos at the annual Meet the Team event. For more information on the event, click here. To RSVP, contact Christina Baglas at Christina.Baglas@athletics.ucsb.edu or at (805) 893-5372.

To ensure that you don't miss a minute of the 2012 campaign, purchase your season tickets now. The popular Family Plan includes five tickets for just $178. This year, the plan will also serve as a Flex Plan with either two season passes and three GKids memberships or five tickets – it's your call! GKids remains the best value in town for kids with access to every regular season game in every sport while wearing your GKids t-shirt. Call (805) 893-UCSB or click here to purchase your season tickets.

Part II of the UCSB men's soccer season preview, which will focus on the midfield, will be released on Friday.