Gauchos begin work to find right combinations for season

UCSB has experienced attacking players galore going into the 2011 season.

The Gauchos opened practice on Thursday at Girsh Park and, at first glance, they look to be very potent on offense.

That shouldn’t be surprising as they return the bulk of the offensive weapons from last year’s 14-5-3 team that played in the NCAA Tournament for the ninth straight season. The top three scorers are back: junior forward Sam Garza (9 goals, 6 assists), sophomore forward David Opoku (6g and 5a) and senior midfielder Luis Silva (6g and 5a). Add veterans Michael Nonni, Nic Ryan, Josue Madueno, Waid Ibrahim and St. John’s transfer Dominick Sarle into the mix and the Gauchos have the potential to challenge the school record of 67 goals in a season set by the 2002 team.

“As you can see, it is the deepest team I could think of here at UCSB,” said coach Tim Vom Steeg, who is entering his 13th at the helm, with one national championship under his belt. “Guys have come in really fit and very focused, and I think it’s a credit to the coaching staff that we’ve been able to add depth to our team.”

One of the pluses to this year’s squad is the abundance of senior leaders — players like defenders Peter McGlynn, James Kiffe and Tim Pontius, and Silva in the midfield.

“I like the makeup of our team. I like the fact we have good senior leadership, a lot of guys who’ve played a lot minutes and have played in a lot of big games,” Vom Steeg said.

He’s counting on junior college transfers to fill some holes.

“They’ve put themselves in a position where I think they’ll start right away, or put themselves in postiion to start right away, or at least be right in the mix,” Vom Steeg said.

One JC transfer who will start right away is junior goalkeeper André Grandt. The 23-year-old native of Germany played on back-to-back JC national championship teams in Tyler, Texas and went 41-0-1 in his two years there.

“Andre is going to be our starting goalkeeper. He’s a player who is 23 years old, has a lot of experience and plays that way,” Vom Steeg said.

Vom Steeg is counting on Grandt’s experience to help break in a new center-back combination.

The Gauchos will train in Oxnard over the weekend and return home to prepare for their exhibition game against Westmont on Saturday, Aug. 20 at Harder Stadium. The first regular season game is Aug. 27 against Seattle at home.