21st Ranked UCSB Is Poised For This Weekend's Season Opener At San Jose State
Aug. 29, 2003
The Record: Overall 0-0 Big West 0-0
This Week's Schedule
Sunday, August 31st
#21 UC Santa Barbara at San Jose State
1:00 p.m. at Spartan Stadium
Some Tall Orders
Picking up where they left off last year, the UC Santa Barbara men's soccer team continues to make history, even before the 2003 season has started. For the first time in the program's history the Gauchos are ranked in the preseason top-25, 19th by College Soccer News, and 21st in both the NSCAA/adidas coaches poll and Soccer Times coaches poll. There is no wonder why UCSB is already looked upon this season with such high regard. Santa Barbara returns six All-Big West honorees, two All-Far West honorees and one All-American (Memo Arzate) from a team that ranked among the top-20 in the nation both offensively (4th in scoring offense) and defensively (13th-t in shutouts) last year. And when you take into account the off season acquisitions made by Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg and Assistant Coach Leo Chappel it leaves little doubt as to why UCSB is already looked upon as a force to be reckoned with.
The Rich Get Richer
Nearing the NCAA Admissions deadline, the Gauchos picked up an additional three recruits to close out their 2003 class. Joining early signees Johnny Alcaraz (Santa Barbara HS), Greg Curry (Christian Brothers HS), and Elia Boggia (The American School of Milan) on Santa Barbara's newcomers list are Efren Mata (junior transfer), Bryan Byrne (incoming sophomore) and Kale Major (senior walk-on). Mata is a standout midfielder from Compton College who was highly touted coming out of Cerritos Way High School in 2001, earning CIF MVP honors as senior. Midfielder Bryan Byrne is expected to make an immediate impact for the Gauchos with his incredible speed on the outside. Stepping into a team that already posses a vast array of offensive weapons, the sophomore from Ireland adds a whole new dynamic to UCSB's attack. Major on the other hand is a unique story. After not playing competitive soccer for the past few years, he spent last season working in the Gauchos' Equipment Room, overseeing men's soccer. Having developed a repoire with the team, Major tried out for the squad in the spring, made the cut and is now poised for a senior season to remember.
Head coach Tim Vom Steeg apparently knows how to get his teams motivated for season openers. In his past four seasons as the Gauchos' helmsman, Santa Barbara has walked away with four wins in four tries. In fact, three of the four were by shutout, the only exclusion was last season's 5-3 win over Michigan at Michigan State. UCSB has outscored its opponents 14-3 in openers under Vom Steeg, with the biggest win coming against Valparaiso, a 4-0 affair at Harder Stadium in 2000.
On Their Way To San Jose
UCSB meets San Jose State this weekend for the first time in two years. The two former MPSF conference-mates squared off at Harder Stadium in 2001 with the Spartans edging the home side 3-1. The overall series has been a close battle over the years, but it is Santa Barbara who holds the edge with a 14-13-0 record against San Jose State. The Gauchos last beat the Spartans in 1999 by a 1-0 margin in Santa Barbara.
There is going to be an obvious change up front for the Gauchos this season with the departure of All-American Rob Friend, but the UCSB coaching staff does not feel there will be any loss of production by their forward line. Rather they feel the forwards will just have a different dynamic than in seasons past. Vom Steeg expects the production to come from several sources in 2003, including the midfield. Senior Neil Jones, who was limited to 15 matches last season due to injuries, will make the move from midfielder to forward and at 6' 4" he gives UCSB the big target they need up front. Jones will be paired with an outstanding line mate in junior forward Drew McAthy who was somewhat overshadowed last year. McAthy had an outstanding offensive season last year, finishing tied for 16th in the nation with 17 goals and earning NSCAA/adidas All-Far West honors. And with their deep bench at the forward position, senior Gene Deering (eight goals, five assists), junior Matt Bly (four goals, two assists) and freshman Johnny Alcaraz (Santa Barbara HS) will also see a lot of time in an attempt to wear down the opposition.
Be Very Afraid
No bones about it, UCSB's strength this season will be its midfield. The Gauchos return College Soccer News Honorable Mention All-American Memo Arzate at the offensive midfielder spot, giving them one of the most lethal offensive weapons in the nation. The Second Team All-Far West selection is in outstanding shape this year after finishing second in the nation last year with 18 assists to go along with his four goals. Arzate is just one of three seniors expected to start in Santa Barbara's experienced midfield. David McGill, another Gaucho overshadowed by a teammate's stellar performance, will be back on the right side. A Second Team All-Big West choice in 2002, McGill ended his junior year fifth in the nation after assisting on 15 goals. Also back is senior Matt Kubota (two goals, seven assists), an honorable mention All-Big West honoree last year, he spent the off season playing in the PDL with the Orange County Blue Star. Returning such a core group does not leave much room for any new faces, but newcomers Bryan Bryne and Greg Curry will be seeing the field early on. Curry is a strong and aggressive player who should excel at the defensive midfielder spot, while Byrne possesses an abundance of speed and can attack the goal from anywhere on the field. Sophomore Corey Wood, now with one season under his belt, should see a significant amount of time at the defensive spot as well. While redshirt freshman Jon Claydon, with his height, gives the Gauchos another added advantage.
It All Starts Here
While the forward line and midfield is somewhat solidified for the start of the season, the defensive setup is a bit up in the air. Moving in from their outside positions are juniors Tony Lochhead and Jon Apilado giving the Gauchos a strong and experienced pair to anchor the defense from the middle. The two outer spots are wide open with the early front runners being senior Darren Doi, one of UCSB's best defensive midfielders, and sophomore Pat Scott would had a tremendous spring season. The only other returning defender with game experience is senior Pete O'Hare, who redshirted last season. O'Hare last played in 2001 when injuries plagued Santa Barbara late in the season. However the Gauchos do bring in redshirt freshman Jeff Murphy who was been with the program for one year, and senior walk-on Kale Major who has been with the team since last spring. Additionally, freshman Elia Boggia at 6' 3", gives UCSB a big body in the back if needed.
Between The Pipes
While the defensive unit is still being sorted out, there is no question about UCSB's last line of defense, junior goalkeeper Dan Kennedy. If the past two seasons are any indicator, Kennedy gives the Gauchos a netminder who is poised to establish himself as one of the tops in the nation. A two-time All-Big West honoree, he has posted a 0.98 career goals against average after his first two seasons, missing just three games over that time. With 13 complete game shutouts his is already tied for fifth all-time in Big West history. Kennedy's backup this year will be redshirt freshman Justin Pugh, switching spots with classmate Kyle Reynish who took on the understudy role last year. Pugh will have some big shoes to fill as Reynish did not allow a single goal last season in over 200 minutes of work while picking up two wins.
"Bottom" Note: UCSB will be without David McGill who is serving a RC suspension