COMMENTARY: Vom Steeg has gotten results at UCSB

Say what you want about Tim Vom Steeg (and people have said plenty over the years), the guy gets results.

He goes after his milestone 200th career win as the UCSB men’s soccer coach this weekend at Harder Stadium — a game Friday against Yale and a Monday night affair against New Mexico.

A soccer coach winning 200 games at UCSB seemed unimaginable before Vom Steeg returned to his alma mater in 1999. So did winning a national championship. He accomplished that in 2006.

Before Vom Steeg took over the program, the eight previous men’s soccer coaches won a combined 253 matches. Andy Kuenzli (Vom Steeg’s coach) had the most wins with 95 in a nine-year career.

In his 15th year at the helm, Vom Steeg has a record of 199-80-30 going into the Yale match. He’s won playing a variety of styles: going with a big line-up, a small line-up, playing one-touch soccer, playing physical soccer.

I’ve been witness to many styles of play and many games — some memorable victories, some devastating defeats. I’ve covered Vom Steeg’s Gaucho teams since the day he was hired in 1999, first as a writer for the News-Press and now for Presidio Sports. In fact, I’ve been following his college coaching career since 1992, when he was building SBCC into a state power. His overall college record is 320-98-34.

I’ve seen the good and the bad. There have been tremendous wins over the hierarchy of the sport, teams like UCLA, Indiana, Connecticut, Duke, Wake Forest.

Under Vom Steeg, UCSB — which doesn’t have Division 1 football money to support it — has earned its way into the upper echelon of college soccer.

Some highlights:

Vom Steeg won in his Gaucho coaching debut, beating Cal Poly 2-0.

The program’s first-ever Division 1 playoff win over University of San Diego in 2002; the 2004 Sweet 16 overtime win at North Carolina Greensboro, where the Gauchos played a man down for 88 minutes; the 2004 quarterfinal win over Virginia Commonweath, where 11,214 filled Harder Stadium and watched the Gauchos advance to their first College Cup; the 5-0 thrashing of Duke in the ’04 national semifinals.

There was the record 15,896 at Harder Stadium to watch Vom Steeg’s Gauchos beat UCLA in a regular season game in 2010.

There was the 2010 playoff game against Denver, when Vom Steeg inserted Waid Ibrahim into the match in overtime and he scored the game-winning goal. Ibrahim had a heart defect and wore a pacemaker.

There’s also been the tirades following bitter playoff losses against Ohio State, St. John’s and Cal.

After a state championship and three straight final four appearances at SBCC, Vom Steeg arrived at UCSB and made a statement: Gaucho soccer was going places. He took a program that went a school-worst 2-17-1 and finished 13-7-0 in his first season. It was the school’s best record since 1988 and the biggest turnaround in NCAA men’s soccer history.

And he did it with just a few holdovers from the previous coach and several players off his state final four team.

The guy proved he could flat-out coach.

That first season had one of the most magical moments in local soccer history: UCSB’s Lucas Dalgleish chipping a ball over the head of Westmont’s 6-foot-6 goalkeeper and the ball bouncing into the goal for the game-winner as the final countdown reached zero at Westmont’s Russ Carr Field.

Gaucho soccer was becoming relevant in the community.

In 2001, led by a recruiting class that featured goalkeeper Danny Kennedy, forward Drew McAthy and New Zealanders Neil Jones and Tony Lochhead, and transfer Rob Friend, the Gauchos went 12-4-3. They were confident they would make the NCAA Tournament for the first time.

No such luck. The team watched the NCAA Selection Show in stunned silence. They couldn’t believe they were passed over.

The snub fueled the fire for the next season. The Gauchos won eight in a row to start the season and finished 16-5-1. They received a NCAA Tournament bid and won their tourney debut, a 2-0 win over USD in front of 3,400 fans at home. They would suffer a bitter defeat at Cal in the second round.

UCSB would make the NCAA Tournament for the next nine years, reaching the College Cup Final in 2004 — losing to Indiana on penalty kicks — and winning the program’s first national title in 2006, beating UCLA in the final.

Vom Steeg at times has ruffled feathers in the college soccer world and at the university when trying to get his point across, defending his team or proposing change. His actions have made him unpopular at times. But, it’s hard to argue what his drive, passion and impact have meant to the sport, the university and the community.

He gets results.