UCSB 2 St. John’s 0

This was one of those matches that had two distinct halves.  The first half was largely out-of-sync and chaotic followed by the second half that proved to be a comprehensive performance.

So, we started the match as follows with Mendez playing a free role in the middle.

Dream Team 4-1-3-2 football formation

We were unsettled to start the match.  In particular, Candia started poorly with a poor touch in the box followed by being dispossessed again shortly thereafter.  Michael also made a couple uncharacteristically poor passes, the second of which resulted in a St. John’s corner kick.

Remarkable throughout the match were the number of balls that ricocheted off UCSB players for St. John’s possessions.

Mendez had a decent start to the half but then resorted to forcing balls.  However, our best opportunity came after Mendez found the feet of the ref.  In the ensuing scramble for the loose ball, Billingley ended up with the ball and made a long, determined run upfield.  He combined with Tellechea just inside the box which resulted in Billingsley having an open look at goal.  His shot was blocked with the rebound falling to Candia who had an even better look at goal from 6 yards out.  His shot found a defender on the line, and the danger was cleared.

It turns out that Ashworth actually does have a decent left foot as evidenced by a good looking cross as well as a left-footed blast later in the match that I imagine sailed out of Harder Stadium.

Our first substitution was Clemmensen for Michael.  Tellechea shifted to the left wing (where he looked good) while Billingsley moved to the right wing.

The Clemmensen substitution would pay dividends when we earned a throw-in deep into St. Johns’ half.  It turns out that in addition to having a decent left foot, Ashworth can also hurl the ball, and hurl it he did.  It appeared Clemmensen got a glancing header to it which fell onto the shoulder of a defender and was redirected into the goal.  While Clemmensen was credited with the goal, it should have been recorded as an own goal.  However, being awarded with the goal was not wholly undeserving since he was the one that created the goal.

Toward the end of the half, Kryzda shanked a shot that found the foot of an unaware Billingsley, and the ball had enough pace to careen off Billingsley’s foot to resemble a shot that went far of the right post.  That play was representative of the first half as it encapsulated a lack of focus, ensuing chaos, and a ball that didn’t bounce our way.  Of course, our “goal” on the long throw was the lone exception to that.

We came out with a different look to start the second half.  Clemmensen remained up top with Candia starting on the left and Fontes pairing with Conteh.

Dream Team 3-4-3 football formation

Candia looked like a different player in the second half.  Instead of poor touches to start the match, he started the second half creating danger around the opposition’s box.  First, he earned a FK just outside the box.  Not long thereafter, he gained the box off the dribble, split two defenders, and sent a cross in front of goal.  Later, he had a shot deflected that found Clemmensen, but Clemmensen wasn’t ready for the pacey deflection and his touch inside the box was too heavy.  Candia cramped on that play and left the match, but his second half performance was excellent.

Michael and Ilskens later combined with a nifty give-and-go that led to a corner kick.  On that corner kick, Ashworth’s attempt was cleared off the line.

With more control over the game, better passing, and finding more space, we were able to take a commanding lead over the game when Conteh found Michael with a long ball into the box and toward the endline.  After the defenders over-ran the play, Michael cut the ball back inside and found the inside of the near post with a left-footed shot.  The keeper got a piece of the ball, but he wasn’t able to stop the goal.

We switched off after our goal, and St. John’s nearly answered right away with a free run at goal.  However, Roach came out, cut down the angle, and was able to make a save with his trailing leg.

In my team preview, I quipped that we would need Conteh to be our Kante.  And today he certainly was.  For me, he was our MOTM.   Conteh disrupted many plays while also retaining possession and making the right pass in almost every situation.  The pairing with Fontes represents a formidable midfield shielding of our excellent backline.  When we take a 2 goal lead this year, it will be extremely difficult for any team to unlock our defense.  As TVS explained in his post-match comments, he has the personnel to field flexible line-ups built on more aggression or more defense.  I think we’re going to try to score goals as quickly as possible this year and then shut the door on the opponent.

Also in my team preview, I projected that if Billingsley can find consistency, it would be difficult for another player to take minutes from him.  That was the case tonight as I thought he was our most consistently dangerous player.  Speaking of flexibility, the fact that Billingsley feels comfortable on both sides of the pitch gives TVS added options to rotate players as he did tonight.

Next up is UC Riverside at home.  UCR is coming off a loss at LMU.  I’ve discussed how UCR’s schedule is very difficult as well as the RPI implications of willingly scheduling them.  To bolster my argument, GauchoDan took last year’s RPI values and based on those numbers, evaluated the difficulty level of out-of-conference schedules.  Unsurprisingly, UCR has the 27th most difficult elective schedule in the country despite being a historically poor team that has no business putting itself on the road for its first six matches against quality opponents.  I’m sorry for having trouble letting this go, but I still find it unconscionable that we scheduled them.  I hope the team takes my anger out on them on Sunday!

Team Preview for Week 1

UCSB opens its season this Friday at home versus St. John’s.  Last season, when we traveled to St. John’s, I thought we has one of our better performances of the year but manged to lose 2-1.  Without doing a deep dive into St. John’s, I’m feeling pretty good about the matchup given how we played last year.

This post isn’t really about St. John’s.  It’s really about us.  With 2 preseason matches played, the coaches have started moving in certain tactical and personnel directions.  We know that primarily through two excellent interviews Arthur Wilkie from KCSB did with TVS.  The first interview was conducted after the SDSU scrimmage while the second interview was held after the Westmont exhibition.

Here is what I have gathered from those interviews:

Keepers – he views Carrillo and Roach roughly equal defensively but finds Roach is stronger with his feet. It appears Roach will begin the season as the starter.

Central Defense – Taieb is physically gifted and a natural defender but lacks experience on the ball.  He’s a virtual lock as starter.  When CVS returns from injury (second weekend), we should have our pairing for the year.  Taieb should prove to be a defensive bulwark while CVS will offer some play-making abilities.  We’re very deep at this position with Adames, Kashani, Ashworth, Ilskens, etc.

Right Back – for now, it looks like Ilskens.  If the matchup isn’t favorable for a slow, 6’2″ outside back (is it ever?), then it appears Kashani will get the nod.  Personally, I’m not seeing this working against teams that we’ll need to beat in the NCAAs.

Left Back – in the most recent interview, it appeared TVS was quite adamant about Ashworth being the answer here.  Although 6’5″, TVS called Ashworth a freak and appears convinced he has the physical tools to compete here.

Defensive Midfield – TVS indicated we’re going with a single defensive midfielder and that Conteh will fill the role.  He sees Conteh as the preferred option over Ilskens since our midfielders farther upfield are undersized speedsters.  Backing up Conteh will be Omari Fontes.  Hopefully Conteh will be our Kante.

Attacking Midfield – it appears Mendez, Ammer, Candia, and Gomez will share minutes for these two positions.  Ammer was held out versus Westmont as a precautionary measure due to an injured shoulder while Gomez is expected to be administratively cleared imminently.

Wings – there wasn’t much discussion about this position, but it’s pretty clear that Michael and Billingsley will earn the most minutes.

Forward – TVS has been very pleased with Tellechea’s fitness and form.  He also spoke highly of freshman Carter Clemmensen.

 

So, from all the info I’ve been able to gather, it appears we’ll start the year in a 4-1-2-2-1 (see below).  In addition to my projected starters versus St. John’s, I expect the following players to earn the bulk of the minutes off the bench: Clemmensen, Ammer, Kryzda, Gomez, and Fontes.  Also, if we make any tactical changes, I expect Kashani to play.

Dream Team 4-1-2-3 football formation

So, how do I expect us to score goals this year?  Like last year, scoring from crosses will not be an emphasis.  Last year, we tried crossing the ball, but we didn’t have quality service that resulted in goals.  Mendoza had an off year in terms of service and Kashani didn’t show any consistency whatsoever.  This year, we’re starting with a right-footed left back, so I don’t expect many/any crosses from Ashworth (TVS mentioned he has a decent left foot, but I don’t expect him to place consistent and accurate crosses into the box).  On the other side, I just don’t see Ilskens getting into the opponent’s final third very often let alone getting to the opponent’s endline.  So, I expect our build-up from the back to go through the middle and for our midfielders to check back to show for and demand the ball.  From there, I think our scoring will come via combining through the middle, playing our wingers wide for them to cross or gain the box themselves, and via through balls up the middle.  I believe our front 5 attacking players will be fluid in their movement and positioning while the two midfielders will need to be very mindful and show a willingness to work on defense.  We also have the players to unsettle the opposition with a high press, and we have the players that will punish a team for making mistakes.  We should also be much improved on set pieces with better kick takers and better finishers (Taieb scored 5 goals for Brooklyn).

Big Changes Afoot

It took longer than in past years, but the roster has been updated, and there’s quite a bit to pick through.

Alright.  Let’s just get the whole Kevin Feucht transferring-to-Duke-thing out of the way.  Feucht transferred to Duke.  Hadn’t heard?  He earned his bachelor’s from UCSB and was looking to go to grad school for his final year of eligibility.  Good for him.  C’est la vie.

The preliminary roster suggests the departure of the following non-seniors:

Adomako – transferred to Div II Rollins College

Adam Ek

Nicholas Saglimbeni

Koby Bench

Brandon Magpayo

Titouan Le Roux – transferred to Div II Nova Southeastern

The good news is that we did not prematurely lose any established players.  You may recall from last year that I rated Magpayo highly, but given his lack of playing time, it didn’t appear the coaches shared my favorable assessment.  To be fair, though, he was likely not to see much more of the pitch this year given the players that would be playing ahead of him.

In addition to the players listed above, we also lose the following seniors from last year:

Randy Mendoza

Josue Salgado

Seo-In Kim

Omar Montalvo

Alex Liua

Of the seniors, the only established player was Mendoza with the others receiving mostly spot starts while functioning primarily as role players.  Looking at last year’s stats, all the players we’ve lost earned 44 collective starts.  Removing Mendoza from the group, we’re left with just 27 starts.  Over the course of last season, there were 209 starting spots over 19 matches, so with Mendoza, we’ve lost about 21% of our starts.  I would guess that a good college team would typically lose 35-40% of its production from one year to the next as seniors tend to play more as would players that are good enough to test the pro waters early.  Also, some of the players from above received starts and minutes largely due to injuries or eligibility issues with players in front of them.   For example, had Ammer, Mendez, and Feucht been available last year, Kim and Magpayo would have played significantly fewer minutes.

The point is that we lost very little year-to-year in the context of college soccer.  Also, all those freshmen and sophomores that played last year (there were matches last year where 8-9 of our starters were underclassmen) have played together for a year.  Even if we brought back just the current returners and add Ammer and Mendez, we would already likely be better than we were last year.  Luckily for us, however, Vom Steeg did some recruiting and has brought in some promising players.  I’m going to take the time to highlight 4 new players likely to play prominent roles for us.

Carson Vom Steeg – henceforth, Carson shall be referred to as CVS.  Once I was tipped off to CVS leaving Stanford, UCSB seemed the obvious destination assuming his plans were to play college instead of turning pro.  CVS is in the pool of the U20 US national team as a defender, and most of his peers are playing professionally, and there is likely pressure for him to turn pro as well.   He was not called up for a July camp that just ended, but I hear he has a foot injury and may miss the start of our season.  Now, if he gets healthy and is called up, we may be without his services during a critical stretch of our schedule as the U20 CONCACAF championship tourney will be held from Nov. 1 through November 21.    While there is still some uncertainty surrounding CVS (injury and possible U20 call up), Feucht’s departure is significantly mitigated by the arrival of CVS.  On paper, CVS should be one of the best players on the team.

Faouzi Taieb – it is easiest to predict how effective a D1 transfer will be since there’s an apple-to-apple comparison.  This is especially true when the player comes from a good school from a good conference.  And if that player received all-conference accolades, particularly when that player was younger than the other honorees, it’s possible to project how that player might fare for us.  One added clue is the jersey number the player was given as it suggests how our coaches envision their role with the team.  Taieb pretty much checks all the boxes.  Granted, St Francis Brooklyn isn’t a big name, but it was good enough to make the NCAA tourney (something we couldn’t manage).  He was named to the 2nd Team All-Conference as a sophomore, scored 3 goals last year as a central defender, and the coaches gave him the #5 jersey.  All signs point to Taieb becoming a starter for us.  Along with CVS and Adames, our central defense should be excellent.  TVS has experimented with a 3 man backline in the past, and that option is very much alive given our personnel.  Otherwise, I project that CVS will push up to defensive midfield or possibly as an outside back.

Thibault Candia – Candia is another D1 transfer, and I liked to see that Temple underwent a coaching change which likely explains his transfer.  Why do I like that, you ask?  In my experience, D1 transfers oftentimes come with baggage.  In most cases, something made them unhappy about their prior situation, and they bailed to join us.  The likelihood that these players possess a poor attitude, play selfishly, or leave us prematurely has historically been higher than non-D1 transfers or players that join as freshmen.   Anyway, Temple plays in a decent conference with teams like Tulsa, USF, and UConn.  Last year, Candia earned 2nd Team All-Conference honors as a sophomore and led his 9-8-1  Owls in scoring with 6 goals.  He is listed as a forward on our roster, but he doesn’t appear to play as a striker.  Rather, he appears to play more as a withdrawn forward or attacking midfielder.

Axel Mendez – Yeah, I know he’s not a new player by a couple different measures.  First, he played at UCSB as a freshman in 2014 (Conference Freshman of the Year).  Second, he was on our roster last year, but he was never cleared to play by the NCAA.  More than anything else last year, we missed a play-making presence in midfield.  We saw flashes of it with Ammer in the few matches he played, and I thought Magpayo did a serviceable job when he received opportunities.  But otherwise, our midfield was a black hole last year, and it impacted our build-up play.  Our young defenders sent ball after ball up-field last year with no real purpose or intent.  Our central midfielders didn’t check back for the ball consistently, our lack of misdirection made us predictable, we didn’t have a player to settle the team, and the service from the middle of the pitch was just dreadful last year.  Along with Ammer and possibly Candia, our attacking midfield options should be formidable.

Now let’s move to some of the new players I view as wildcards that I have my eye on as potential emerging players.

Hunter Ashworth – a transfer from University of San Francisco, he redshirted last year.  He started 10 matches as a freshman and has played with the U20 New Zealand national team.  He’s 6’5″, so he an obvious center back.  Since he redshirted last year, and since we possess other centerbacks that look to have an edge over him, we’ll see how he figures into TVS’ plans.

Diran Bebekian – Bebekian has flown under the radar as he was never announced by Athletics despite his verbal commitment being publicly known.  He comes to us from the RSL Academy and has played on Armenia’s YNT.  The coaches thought highly enough of him to give him the #13 jersey.

Carter Clemmensen – any high school player that did not play for an academy team makes it difficult to project how that might translate to college ball.  However, Clemmensen played for a prestigious high school  and received a slew of honors, both regional and national.  At 6’3″, he’s a natural striker on a team that needs exactly that.  If he can emerge as a scoring threat and finish the chances created by our outstanding midfielders and wingers, we’re going to be in excellent shape.

 

People love to project line-ups, but for college soccer and its liberal substitution rules, it’s not that important.  Also, how we start the year may look very different from how we end it.  TVS likes to try players at different positions, so I expect the personnel and formations to be in flux for the first third of the season.  However, I will take a crack at each position and include a rough depth chart.

Keeper

Given how well Carrillo played last year, this is his position to lose.  Then again, nobody would have projected Carrillo as our starter last year (including Carrillo, btw).

Carrillo, Roach, Montoy

 

Left Back

This position is perhaps the biggest question mark coming into this year with the departure of Mendoza.  Acosta was the understudy last year, but I’m not convinced that is his best position. Beyond Acosta, I have a lot of question marks.  This could become moot if we go with a 3 man backline with Adames playing as the left-sided defender.  It’s also very possible that we see an attacker being converted to an outside back or a redshirt from last year might emerge.  I’m so uncertain about our outside back positions that I’m not even going to venture a guess for our depth.

 

Right Back

Here we have the second biggest question mark.  We platooned the right back position last year, and nobody was particularly convincing.  Kashani logged probably the most minutes, but those were primarily earlier in the year.  He’s a more natural central defender.  Gillingham and Poulter also did not impress.  Again, we might see a 3 man backline or convert an attacker to an outside back (see Left Back above).

 

Center Back

We have an embarrassment of riches at this position.

Adames, Taieb, CVS, Kashani, Ashworth, Ilskens, Poulter, Gillingham, Pak

 

Defensive/ Holding Midfield

Last year, our first choice options settled on Acosta and Ilskens with Acosta playing more box-to-box while Ilskens played a more holding role.  If we continue to play with 2 players, depth will likely be a concern as I don’t see any obvious new players who would fit here.  Now, I listed CVS as third on the CB depth chart because I envision him playing a defensive midfield role.

CVS, Ilskens, Acosta, Fletcher

 

Attacking Midfield

This will be a clear strength for us, and given our depth for a position typically occupied by one player, it will be interesting to see if TVS employs a second attacking player in the middle or plays people in unnatural positions (deeper playmaker or at wing).  For example, we could play a 4-1-2-2-1 or a 4-4-1-1.

Ammer, Mendez, Candia, Michael

 

Left Wing

When healthy, Billingley was our first choice.  If he shows greater consistency and stays healthy, it will be difficult for others to take his place.

Billingley, Ammer, Bebekian, Acosta, Michael

 

Right Wing

Unless TVS has other plans for him (right back?!), Michael is clearly our best player at this position.

Michael, Ammer, Mendez, Conteh

 

Forward

Tellechea was our first choice, but he will have some stiff competition this year.

Tellechea, Kryzda, Candia, Clemmensen, Michael

 

Obviously, there are a number of players on the roster that I didn’t mention.  It’s entirely possible that some pleasant surprises will emerge.  In fact, going off history, it’s actually likely.

The next thing to pay attention to is media day when TVS will do several interviews and reveal some of the players that have impressed him.  Some time not long after that, we’ll actually get to see the team play at which point much of what I wrote above will be completely out the window.