August 20, 2010

2010 Men's Soccer Season Preview: Forwards

Aug. 20, 2010

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SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Today we conclude our three-part season preview of the 2010 UCSB men's soccer season with a look at the forwards and the Gaucho offense. UCSB will begin its 2010 campaign tomorrow evening when it hosts Westmont in an exhibition game on Meredith Field at Harder Stadium at 7 p.m.

UCSB entered 2009 with high hopes for its offense but as the season wore on, injuries and illnesses plagued the Gaucho attack. By the end of the season, UCSB was relying heavily on senior David Walker to score and it was his three postseason goals that helped lead the Gauchos to the Third Round of the NCAA Tournament.

Now that Walker has graduated, the UCSB coaching staff will look elsewhere for its offensive production, but with a solid combination of experienced returning players and talented newcomers on the 2010 roster, the Gauchos have the potential to have a deep and explosive offense.

"We certainly want to be a team that is dangerous on offense," said head coach Tim Vom Steeg. "We certainly want to be a team that is difficult to play against. If we can get that combination right, then I think we can achieve our goals."

Among the Gaucho returners is sophomore Michael Nonni, who is the top returning scorer from 2009. In his breakout freshman season, he tallied six goals and six assists, which resulted in Second Team All-Big West honors.

Junior Waid Ibrahim also returns for his second season with the Gauchos and is expected to play a bigger role in 2010. Ibrahim had a new pacemaker put in during the offseason (he suffers from a malfunctioning right ventricle) that should allow him to record more minutes on the pitch. In the minutes he did log on the field last year, he recorded five goals and two assists, earning him Honorable Mention All-Big West accolades.

UCSB will not just have to rely on Nonni and Ibrahim this season, however, as the Gaucho coaching staff has added some very talented players to its attack.

"The part that we really concentrated on was how we are able to address the fact that last year we started with three or four forwards and halfway through the season we just had a couple healthy guys left," Vom Steeg said. "We certainly wanted to add some attacking players that allowed us to get through the whole season and still be dangerous up front."

Among the Gauchos' 2010 additions are University of Denver transfer sophomore Sam Garza, who has played with the U.S. U-20 Men's National Team and was the 2008 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Newcomer of the Year.

Gaby Okito, a junior transfer out of Yavapai College, joins his former junior college teammates Sam Hayden, Evan McNeil and Chris Hunter at UCSB. Okito helped lead Yavapai to the 2008 National Championship and was a Second Team All-American in 2009.

UCSB's coaches also have high hopes for freshman David Opoku who comes to Santa Barbara from Accra, Ghana, becoming the fourth native of the country to join the Gaucho roster along with Ibrahim, junior Michael Tetteh and freshman Fifi Baiden.

"When you start to put that entire front line together, there are just a lot of options," Vom Steeg said. "It will be competitive. Hopefully we will be able to find good chemistry and the guys will play with each other and for each other."

The Gauchos' offensive success will rely heavily on combinations, according to Vom Steeg, and just a week into practices he is noticing some complimentary playing styles.

"I think Sam and Nonni compliment each other very well. I think Waid and David compliment each other. We may talk about dropping one of those players back to midfield, having one of them run out of midfield a little more. We'll play with it," Vom Steeg said.

With depth at every part of the field, UCSB is well positioned to make a run towards the 2010 Men's College Cup in December.

"This is certainly, by far, the deepest team and most talented - I know I say that almost every year - but this one has surpassed anything that we have had in the past," Vom Steeg said. "So, we've amassed the talent. You can only play 11, so it doesn't matter if we have 20-25 good players. But through the course of the season, we are in much better shape than we have been in the last several years."

To read Wednesday's preview of the defenders and goalkeepers, click here.

To read Thursday's preview of the midfielders, click here.

Season tickets for the 2010 soccer season are now available. All season ticket packages include tickets for the 2010 Men's College Cup, which is being hosted by UCSB on Dec. 10-12 at Meredith Field at Harder Stadium. Individual season tickets start at just $75 and include one ticket to all home men and women's regular season games and one 2010 Men's College Cup all-session ticket. UCSB staff and faculty can purchase their season tickets for a reduced rate of $50.

To purchase your tickets for the 2010 soccer season or for more information, please call (805) 893-UCSB, visit the Ticket Office located inside the Intercollegiate Athletics building on campus or buy online by clicking here