August 22, 2014

Men's Soccer Season Preview Pt. III: Forwards

This is the last of a three-part, week-long series previewing the upcoming 2014 UCSB men's soccer season ahead of Saturday's campaign-opening exhibition against Westmont. Today's preview, presented by the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, will break down UCSB's forwards. 

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – When the 2014 men's soccer season kicks off tomorrow, UCSB's forward corps will be tasked with helping replace the 15 goals scored by graduated French forwards Achille Campion and Goffin Boyoko, who combined to score just under half of the Gauchos' 31 team goals last year.

To accomplish that task, UCSB head coach Tim Vom Steeg will welcome back a trio of talented returners as well as three promising newcomers. The Gauchos' bench boss will also have some variety to choose from when selecting his starting lineup – with three of his options being taller, more bulky options, and three being quick and agile.

"With our forwards this year, we're going to have a good mix of returners and news guys," said Vom Steeg. "But then again, we're also going to have the ability to put a pair of forwards out there who can really complement each other – size with speed, aerial ability with finishing."

The two returning forwards who played the most last year, junior Charlie Miller and senior Reed McKenna, signify that dynamic perfectly.

Miller, a former Servite High School standout who stands at 6-3, had quite an effective sophomore campaign in 2013. He ranked third on the team in goals (four) and fifth on the team in points (10) despite making just four starts. Miller actually had the best minutes-to-goals ratio on the team, narrowly edging out the oft-injured Campion by scoring a goal for every 161 minutes he was on the pitch. Half of his goals were game-winners as well, including a Sept. 20 golden goal against Penn.

"Charlie has been great so far in training," said Vom Steeg. "He's a legitimate threat in the air, and has really improved on his hold-up play."

Miller has the size and skill on the ball to be as effective holding up at the point as Campion was, and has displayed the aerial ability (three of his four goals last year were headers) to be a target man for crosses coming from UCSB's widemen like Ismaila Jome and Drew Murphy.

McKenna will serve as the underneath forward, using his pace and intelligence to make runs between opposing defenders.

"Reed will be playing more centrally this year as opposed to last," said Vom Steeg. "We feel like that role is more accustomed to his skill set, floating between defenders and making runs."

Last year, McKenna appeared in all but one of the team's games in his first year as a Gaucho after transferring from UCLA. Usually playing out wide, he impressed with his speed but recorded just three points. Playing in a more traditional forward role, McKenna's point output should increase.

Besides Miller, Vom Steeg will look to a pair of sizable freshmen to help put the ball in the net.

Denis Kalamar, a 6-0 striker from the Seattle area, has impessed at camp and was a prolific scorer at the club level, notching 24 goals over two seasons with the Sounders Academy, including a team-leading 15 in the 2013-14 season.

"Denis is very dangerous in the box, yet can still be successful as an open field player," said Vom Steeg. "We won't need to ask him to get on the end of crosses, he'll make a living inside the penalty area."

UCSB's heaviest outfield player at 190 pounds, freshman Alex Liua is another forward who could be a nightmare for center backs around the Big West.

"Alex is a phenomenal athlete, one of the best on the team," said Vom Steeg. "We're excited to see what he can do in game action with that big body."

At the off-forward position, returner Armand Bagramyan and Swedish import Ludwig Ahl will push McKenna for playing time.

Held to just nine appearances due to injuries, Bagramyan showed flashes of his massive potential last year as a freshman but was unable to develop consistent form due to his sporadic appearances. Vom Steeg will look to Bagramyan to contribute goals this year. He has certainly shown he had the pedigree to get on the scoresheet, tallying a school-record 43 goals over his senior season at La Canada High School.

"Armand has electric pace and the ability to break open a game with his skill," said Vom Steeg. "He has made strides in this area, but still needs to work on contributing when he is denied time and space."

Though he has yet to touch down on American soil due to a protracted NCAA clearance process, Ahl should be a major contributor for the Gauchos over the next four years according to Vom Steeg.

"Ludwig's soccer IQ is off the charts," said Vom Steeg. "He has played wide and as an attacking midfielder at the club level, so this will be a bit of a new role for him. How we have our team set up, he fits more as a center forward, and I have no doubt he will thrive since he's so good around the net."

Ahl comes to the Gauchos having made stops with some of the top clubs in his native Sweden. At 16 years old, he became the youngest player to ever debut for Alvsjo AIK. His strong play there earned him a stint with AIK Stockholm, where he reached the U-19 Finals in 2013.

With his experience in the midfield, it is likely Ahl will appear in the center of the park as well.

To read the defense/goalkeeper preview, click here. To read the midfielders preview, click here.

UCSB will play in its annual exhibition game for the Bryant and Sons Cup when it hosts Westmont College at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 23. The regular season opens with games at the College of Charleston and Furman on Aug. 29 and Aug. 31 respectively. The first regular season Meredith Field at Harder Stadium appearance will be Friday, Sept. 5 at 7:00 p.m. against Northwestern.

To purchase season tickets for UCSB men's soccer, or for additional information, please drop by the Athletics Ticket Office in the Intercollegiate Athletics Building on campus, call (805) 893-UCSB (8272) or online by clicking here.

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