Gaucho soccer counting on health, veterans to get back on top

For UCSB men’s soccer, 2013 should prove to be a pivotal season. After going unbeaten over their first 11 games last year, the Gauchos were decimated by injuries down the stretch and failed to qualify for the postseason for the first time since 2002.

But with a fully healthy, veteran-laden squad, this season’s Gauchos are confident they can jump right back into contention both nationally and in the Big West Conference.

“One of our simple goals going into training camp was to have everybody healthy and ready to go,” said head coach Tim Vom Steeg. “I’ve been very pleased that we’ve been able to get in good training and that we are going to be able to operate with all of our players.”

It all begins on Saturday at Harder Stadium as the Gauchos host Westmont College at 7 p.m. in their exhibition season opener.

UCSB’s full fitness has pundits believing. The Gauchos have been ranked as high as No. 13 by national publications and were picked to win the Big West’s North Division in the preseason conference coaches poll as well as by the NSCAA, College Soccer News, and College Sports Madness.

In accordance with their NCAA Tournament aspirations, the Gauchos have put together yet another grueling schedule in 2013. UCSB will welcome a pair of power programs in New Mexico and Stanford to Harder Stadium in late September, while closing the regular season home slate against rival Cal Poly. The Stanford game will take place on Sep. 27 ? the Friday of move-in weekend, ensuring yet another packed house ? and will be televised by the NSCAA. Key road contests include the season opener at Northwestern on Aug. 30 and a nationally televised showdown with UCLA on Sep. 13.

UCSB’s returning players accounted for just 11 of the team’s 31 goals last season, but the offense should receive an immeasurable boost from a full season of forward Achille Campion, who scored six times in seven appearances last year. The France native saw action in just one match after Sep. 16 ? he scored in that contest, naturally ? due to injuries, but is at full fitness heading into the new campaign and should be counted among the Big West’s most feared strikers.

“I think most of the coaches in the Big West recognize that Achille would have put up double digit goals last season had he stayed healthy,” said Vom Steeg. “The pace he was on, he was likely to be one of the goal scoring leaders in the conference, if not the actual leader.”

Campion indeed was recognized by the conference coaches, as he was named to the Preseason All-Conference Team while also being named to the Top-100 Division-I player rankings by Top Drawer Soccer despite having just six goals to his name at the NCAA level.

Joining Campion in the forward group are Reed McKenna, Charlie Miller and Goffin Boyoko.

McKenna, a transfer from UCLA, appeared in 16 games over two years for the Bruins but was never able to crack the lineup full time. A move up the 101 could help unlock his vast potential, evidenced by his First Team All-America selection as a high school senior.

Miller, who was the Trinity League Offensive Player of the Year in 2011 as a high school senior, notched three goals as a redshirt freshman on just 11 shots. His impressive form in spring friendlies suggests he is ready for a larger role in the offense.

Boyoko, who came on fifteen times last year in his first year as a Gaucho, showed his potential last season with three tallies, including the season-opening goal in an exhibition against Westmont.

The midfield is the area in which the Gauchos have experienced the most turnover. Big West Midfielder of the Year Nic Ryan was drafted by the San Jose Earthquakes, while conference Freshman of the Year Ema Boateng signed with a pro team in Sweden.

Luckily for the Gauchos, senior Fifi Baiden is about as dependable as midfielders come. The 2012 All-Big West First Teamer provides top-notch defensive skills and positional play, which opens up the field for his teammates. The Ghana native has been recognized as one of the top defensive midfielders in the country, evidenced by his selection on the Preseason All-Conference Team, his inclusion in the Top-100 Top Drawer rankings, and being named a Preseason All-American by College Sports Madness.

Freshman midfielder Drew Murphy ? who made a name for himself with the LA Galaxy academy team, including stints training with the first team ? appears to have won a job with the Starting XI as well. Murphy has size at 6-2, and can slot in on defense as well.

Adam Carn-Saferstein, who appeared in six of last year’s final nine games, projects to receive a fair amount of playing time as well, while several promising newcomers such as Adis Islamovic, Nick DePuy, Armand Bagramyan, and Gonzalo Gelso are also in the mix.

Though it was no slouch last year, UCSB’s backline figures to be one of the strengths of the 2013 squad. After allowing just 18 goals a season ago ? the sixth fewest in team history ? the Gauchos will welcome back center half Peter Schmetz to an already stout defense.

“Our back line is very experienced, as they’ve played together for an extended period of time now,” said Vom Steeg. “We have a good attitude and a good approach on defense.”

A 2011 All-Big West selection, Schmetz missed all but eight games last season due to a litany of injuries. He has a clean bill of health to start this campaign, and will team with fellow international defender Daniel Welsh to give the Gauchos one of the strongest defensive backbones in the conference. Standing 6-6 and blessed with superior aerial ability, Schmetz should greatly help the Gauchos’ ability to withstand crosses and corner kicks.

Welsh, an All-Big West Second Team pick, rose to prominence in Schmetz’s absence last year, starting 17 games ? the most among UCSB’s defenders ? and playing a part in four shutouts.

Fellow defender Matt Glodack enters his fourth season as a collegiate starter, and his third as a Gaucho. The New Jersey native featured in 18 games for the Gauchos in 2012 and was also named to the Big West All-Academic Team. His return from a season-ending concussion in 2011 to a dependable figure on defense was one of the more inspiring storylines from last year’s team.

Rounding out the defensive corps is Brandon Brockway, who started 15 games last season as a redshirt freshman.

Returning in goal is Austin Mansker, who impressed in his first full season with the squad after redshirting for the two seasons prior. His 0.89 GAA last year was the ninth best in program history and he recorded a respectable five shutouts. Pushing Mansker in net will be Josh McNeely, a freshman who has trained with the Los Angeles Galaxy and West Bromwich Albion academies and was the starting keeper for the 2011 US Soccer Academy National Championship team.

Earlier this week, the Gauchos unveiled the nation’s best soccer broadcast schedule, including radio coverage of all games and live video coverage of all but two matches. To learn more, click here.

For the sixth consecutive year, the Gauchos led the nation in attendance in 2012. Don’t miss your chance to be a part of one of the elite teams in collegiate soccer in 2013. Season ticket plans start as low as $3 a game and grant you admission to all 12 of the Gauchos’ regular season home games. To grab your tickets today, call 805.893.UCSB, visit the ticket office at the Intercollegiate Athletics building on campus