Vom Steeg adds 10 with NLIs

The UCSB men’s soccer team, fresh off its seventh consecutive Top-25 finish and seventh straight NCAA Tournament appearance, announced on Wednesday that it has signed 10 players to National Letters of Intent.

Five of the players are from junior colleges while the other half will be incoming freshmen at UCSB. All will be part of the 2009 Gauchos squad.

“Our goal is to win right now,” UCSB head coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “What we needed was to dramatically improve our defense by adding experienced players at key positions. In general, the recruiting class comprises a group of really talented freshmen soccer players and then we went heavy into the junior college ranks to find players who are playing at a high level, have a lot of big-game experience and who we feel can step in and play for us right away.”

Three of those players won consecutive Division I National Junior College Athletic Association titles for Yavapai College in Prescott, Ariz., a team that went a combined 60-2 over the past two years including a perfect 26-0 mark last season. One incoming player was on Taft’s 2008 California Community College Men’s Soccer State Championship team and another played for Santa Barbara City College, which finished its season ranked No. 10 in the nation.

Arriving to UCSB from Yavapai are defenders Evan McNiel and Chris Hunter and goalkeeper Sam Hayden. These players are expected to make an immediate impact on a UCSB team that allowed 39 goals last season, the worst in Vom Steeg’s decade at the school.

McNiel, who hails from Castaic, Calif., also won the 2006 and 2007 United States Youth Soccer Association (USYSA) National Championship with the Arsenal Soccer Club. He was a member of the Cal South Olympic Development Program (ODP) team from 2003-05 and was captain of the Region IV Team. McNiel was also a member of the United States National Team pool in both 2003 and 2005.

“Two years ago he was our top recruit,” Vom Steeg said. “Not surprisingly, he’s really helped lead Yavapai to two national championships. This is an exceptional defender.”

Hunter is a center back from South Shields, England and was named MVP of the NJCAA Regional Championships in 2008. He was also named to the NJCAA All-Region Team in 2008.

“While we were at Yavapai watching Evan, we had a chance to see Chris play and the fact is that Chris is a player that reminds us a lot of (former Gaucho) Greg Curry,” Vom Steeg said. “He organizes well, he’s quick and hard to the ball. Given his leadership abilities, he was voted MVP by his teammates on a team that was loaded with talent.”

Hayden was the Gatorade Player of the Year at Jackson Hole (Wyoming) High School and a three-time All-State selection before becoming a two-time NJCAA Goalkeeper of the Year and an All-Conference selection at Yavapai. Hayden was also named a Second-Team National All-American at Yavapai.

“He reminds me a lot of Dan Kennedy in the way he leads the team,” Vom Steeg said. “His athleticism, competitiveness and experience in playing in big games will allow him to compete for a starting spot.”

UCSB landed another defender in Taylor Rivas from Taft’s 2008 California Community College Men’s Soccer State Championship team. As a freshman Rivas was a First Team All-Central Valley Conference selection and this past season he was the Central Valley Conference MVP.

“He fits right into that mold of what we’re looking for in defenders,” Vom Steeg said. “We need defenders who are really good one-on-one. We need defenders to shut down the other team’s best player and he will be very good in filling this role.”

The fifth junior college student coming to UCSB is a player Santa Barbara soccer enthusiasts should know about – forward Waid Ibrahim, who played last season at Santa Barbara City College. The Ghana native, who will be entering UCSB as a sophomore, was a two-time CIF Offensive Player of the Year at Dunn School (where he was teammates with current Gaucho Michael Tetteh) and was an All-Western State Conference player at SBCC this past season.

“He was a player at the top of our recruiting list two years ago,” Vom Steeg said. “We felt that Waid two years ago was the best finisher we had seen in the country. He’s one of the players we feel can help replace the loss of Nick Perera and Chris Pontius (who was selected No. 7 overall in the Major League Soccer SuperDraft in January).”

Leading the incoming group of freshman is Garden Grove native Christian Ramirez, a midfielder who captained both the USYSA Cal South ODP squad and the Region IV team. While with the ODP team Ramirez won a USYSA ODP National Championship and four Regional Championships from 2004-08. Ramirez won the prestigious ODP Golden Boot award at the 2008 USYSA ODP National Championship. He also played with one of California’s top club teams, the San Diego Surf, the same squad that former Gaucho and current member of Major League Soccer’s (MLS) Real Salt Lake, Brennan Tennelle played with.

“Christian was the best all-around player we saw this year in Southern California,” Vom Steeg said. “He is a competitive player with really good size, skill and confidence on the ball. He will eventually play the role that Alfonso Motagalvan did the past four years.”

Nic Ryan, a midfielder who hails from San Jose, Calif. was a member of the Cal North ODP team and Region IV team. Ryan was part of the U.S. Under-18 National Team pool and attended the recent National Team camp at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. with current UCSB player Bryan Dominguez. His club team, the San Juan Lightning, won the 2008 Surf Cup championship. Ryan was also a First-Team All-League player at Branham High School.

“He is a very smart soccer player and reminds us a lot of (former UCSB player and current member of the MLS’ Colorado Rapids) Ciaran O’Brien,” Vom Steeg said. “He’s really smart and plays with a lot of passion. We saw him early on as a younger player and saw a lot of potential. We’re not surprised that over the past year he has been added to the U.S. National pool.”

Coming to UCSB from Marquette University High School in Wisconsin is midfielder Robbie Boyd, who was named an NSCAA National All-American as well as Wisconsin’s NSCAA Player of the Year. Part of the Super Y League’s National Team in 2004, Boyd has known nothing but success in his career, playing for Wisconsin’s ODP team from 2004-07. Boyd was also a part of the Region II Team in 2007 and 2008. While playing for his club team, the Chicago Magic – which won regional titles in 2005, 2006 and 2007 – he won the Super Y League National Championship in 2006 and was part of the runner-up squad in 2005.

“One of the advantages of being in Santa Barbara, having a successful program and being on national TV is our ability to attract players who are very good from across the country,” Vom Steeg said. “Robbie was one of the top players from across that region. He is the first player to come to UCSB from the Chicago Magic, which is one of the top five clubs in the country and he is one of the best players on the club. He is a great addition for UCSB and we hope others will follow. Boyd adds to a list of players that have been successful here because of their skill, speed and aggressiveness.”

From nearby Thousand Oaks High School comes midfielder Russell Jackson, who was a member of the Cal South ODP team from 2003-08 and Region IV squad. Jackson was also a member of the U.S. Under-15 National Team camp. While a member of Real SoCal – the top club team in California – he won three USYSA National Championships.

“Jackson is a player from a very select group that can change the game when he is on the field,” Vom Steeg said. “He is really explosive off the dribble and is very dangerous around the goal. He will be another player vying to replace the departure of our two forwards.”

Lastly, coming across the Atlantic is a center back from Hull, England, Robert Hoyle. Hoyle was part of England’s U-18 International School Boys Squad in 2008 and was the captain of the 2008 Regional Team. Hoyle also captained the U-16 Team in 2007 and 2008 and the E. Riding Schools state team in the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons. He was named the Player’s Player of the Year in 2006 and the Manager’s Player of the Year in 2007.

“We’re fortunate to be able to recruit a player like Rob who has a lot of options in terms of his playing career,” Vom Steeg said. “He is one of the top student-athletes I have signed since I’ve been at UCSB. Having (England native and Hermann Trophy candidate) Andy Iro, who played at UCSB and is a member of the 2008 MLS Cup champions Columbus Crew, helps in the recruiting process. A player like Rob looks over and sees Iro’s path as one that he’d like to follow. Even though he’s only 17, he has vast international experience. The only reason why he turned down opportunities to play professional soccer is because he saw an opportunity of attending a national top-20 university and soccer program. Of our freshmen class, he could be the most sought-after student-athlete, having had the option of going anywhere in the country.”