MSoc: Gauchos show more firepower in first practice


Nick DePuy collected a through pass on the left side of the penalty area and ripped a left-footed blast into the back of the net. It was one of three shots he put away in the scrimmage at Harder Stadium.

At the other end of the short field, newcomer Ahinga Selemani used some dazzling footwork to break through a crowd of defenders. Moments later, a shot was blocked by the goalkeeper and Selemani swooped in, launched his body and scored on a diving header.

If Wednesday’s opening day of practice is any indication, the UCSB men’s soccer team will have a lot more firepower in 2015.

UCSB will make its season debut on Saturday, Aug. 22 when it faces Westmont in their annual exhibition game at Harder Stadium. The regular season opener is Friday, Aug. 28 at home against No. 8-ranked Stanford.

DePuy leads the offensive attack for UCSB.

“We got a ton of talent, especially up the field,” said the 6-4 junior who moved from midfield to forward during last season, scored a team-high 10 goals and earned Big West Offensive Player of the Year honors.

“He scored 10 goals in 10 games,” UCSB coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “He’s maturing up front, playing up front, working up front. You’re going to see somebody who I think can put up 14, 15, 16 goals.”

Vom Steeg is excited about DePuy working with Selemani up front. “Those two complement each other very well,” he said.

“Ahinga is a very good player, fast, very passionate, left foot, great strike. He’s going to be very good,” said DePuy.

Selemani, a sophomore transfer from Michigan, was the top-rated forward in the country two years ago. “There’s no doubt Ahinga is picking up 10 goals,” said Vom Steeg.

Seo-In Kim, a transfer from Duke, Kevin Feucht, a transfer from Division 2 national champion University of Charleston via Germany, Geoffrey Acheampong, an All-CIF player from Cate School, Florida International transfer Josue España, and returning player Ismaila Jome bolster the attack.

“We have at least 4, 5, 6 players, where last year everything was Nick,” Vom Steeg said. “We waited around for Nick to score. If Nick scored, we won. If Nick didn’t score, we didn’t win. That is not the case this year at all. This will be our best attacking team, the best attacking team in terms of we’ll be able to bring six players at you that I think you’ll have to account for. And, by the way, I have two or three players coming off the bench that can really help us.”

Said DePuy: “We’re more talented than last year. We got a couple of guys at each position that can really compete for starting spots. And that’s really good because everybody is competing and making each one of us better, and that’s going to make us better us a team.”

DePuy worked during the off-season with former UCSB star forward Rob Friend, who scored a school-record 20 goals during his senior year and 11 as a junior. Friend had 12-year professional career and retired last year after playing with the L.A. Galaxy.

Jome likes the talent level and commitment of the new group of players.

“I love it, it’s really competitive,” he said. “Everybody’s working hard to improve, even the guys that are still here. We’re working hard to do better this year.”

Jome, who was named team captain, DePuy, Drew Murphy, Adam Carn-Saferstein, Brandon Brockway and Duncan Backus are the veterans of the squad.

Vom Steeg is anticipating a big season for Jome.

“No one has worked harder in the off-season than him,” the coach said of the junior, who was moved to left back last season. “He’s changed his game dramatically. Ish will be as good as there is in the country.”

Jome was hyped last preseason as a player to watch. He said the publicity didn’t faze him.

“It’s always been about the team,” he said. “We didn’t do that well last year and I didn’t do as well individually, either. This year I’m just trying to do my best individually and have a better season, and collectively we’ll have a better season.”

One thing he plans on doing is scoring more goals.

“My mindset is to get more goals this year,” he said. “My sophomore year (defenses) cut me down going to my left a lot. I’ve been working a lot on my right foot. I’ll be looking forward to be taking more shots with my right foot.”

Vom Steeg plans to use Jome in a variety of places on the field. If he plays in the midfield, Randy Mendoza, a transfer from Cal State L.A., would likely see action at left back.

Asked about the Gauchos not being ranked in the national coaches preseason top 25, Jome said it’s not a big deal.

“It doesn’t really matter who’s ranked No. 1, who’s ranked No. 2, who’s ranked No. 85, everybody starts at zero. We’re just looking forward to winning games.”

The Gauchos will be experienced in the back with returnees Jome, Backus, Brockway, Jeff Quezada, University of Mobile transfer Fuad Adeniyi and Mendoza. San Marcos alum Sam Strong also will play a big role on the back line.

Another difference with this year’s team is size. The majority of the players are listed over 5-10.

There was added significance to UCSB’s first day of practice. It meant Vom Steeg’s son, Justin, officially became a Gaucho. Justin Vom Steeg is a 6-4 freshman goalkeeper whose experience includes playing for U.S. National Teams — he was just named to the U.S. Under-20 team for matches against Serbia and France in Serbia in September — and training with Bundesliga club teams in Germany.

“It’s exciting,” said coach Vom Steeg on coaching his son at UCSB. “For me as coach, the conversation (we have) is on the same page. He still listens to me, which is good news.”

Justin said playing for this dad at UCSB is no different than playing for him as a youth.

“It’s fun,” he said. “He’s been my coach before at the youth level. He’s coached me in baseball and soccer so I’ve already had that experience. To be honest, it’s really not that much different than when I was 10 years old. I enjoy it. It’s fun having him around; he’s a really good coach.”

Justin, who is one of four goalkeepers on the roster, likes what he sees from this team.

“In terms of talent, the sky’s the limit for this team, he said. “ You look out there, there’s players from all over; players with different backgrounds who all bring something different to the table. You see the talent. It’s just up to us to get it done.”