2016 Final Thoughts and a Look Ahead

UCSB can normally expect to make the NCAA postseason, and 2016 was supposed to be no exception.  So, what went wrong?

RPI.  RPI.  RPI.  Much more than any other factor, our schedule was to blame.  With a strength of schedule ranking of 137 (out of 206), 50% of our formula dragged us down and was out of our control.  If you look over the RPI rankings, the only at-large NCAA participant with a worse SOS ranking than us was Florida Gulf Coast (173), and they needed a 14-3-2 record in order to overcome their SOS and barely squeak into the NCAAs.  By the time our 5 game losing streak ended, we needed the BW Tourney Championship, but we came out flat at home in the semi-final and deservedly lost to a more inspired CSUF.  Losing Justin Vom Steeg, Jome, and Acheampong to the pros in the spring (without much of an opportunity to replace them) did not help.

It’s really a shame, particularly for DePuy who turned down professional offers in favor of finding some magic his senior year.  Also, this should have been Andy Perez’s junior year after he sacrificed his redshirt year midway through his sophomore year.  Despite having a year that I thought was disappointing, his willingness to essentially forgo a year of eligibility is commendable.  So, who else do we lose to graduation?

In order of importance and years on the team ():

Josue Espana (2)

Riley Peterson (1)

Although Salgado is listed as a senior on the roster, he will return next year.

The only player that I anticipate may test the professional waters is Selemani since he did so last year.  Otherwise, I don’t foresee any others jumping to the pros.  If there is a silver lining to us not finding more success this year, that would be it.

There are good reasons to be optimistic for next year.

First, this year’s freshman class proved it could contribute.  Batista, Amo, and Le Roux were all deserving starters.  Had Batista played in his natural position from the start and had Amo not gotten injured, either of them could have been the conference’s freshman of the year.  Had our forward and wing play not been one of our strengths, Billingsley would have received more starts in addition to earning significant minutes.

Second, our sophomore class was also quite strong with Pando and Ilskens coming in as transfers.  Pando was a revelation and Ilskens started to find his groove after being injured for the first half of the season.  I remain intrigued by Moni, and I wonder if Espana’s graduation will lead to a more possession based team with fewer unnecessary turnovers.  Addition through subtraction?  Cody Gibson and Jonah Adomakoh redshirted their sophomore year and will be nice options next year.  I do not expect Sam Strong to return.

Third, I expect next year’s seniors to bring passion, motivation, and selflessness that is badly needed.  Feucht, Selemani, and Mendoza all bring it.  Quezada and Salgado are more than capable CBs, but Vom Steeg never seemed entirely comfortable with the pairing.  We’ll see how Liua and Montalvo contribute.

Of course, we will be adding more players including the 2017 freshman class which includes 1 forward, 1 midfielder, and 2 defenders.  We can also expect 2-4 transfers or otherwise unannounced players.

Without knowing the quality of our incoming players, here’s how we might line-up with the best of our returning players:

Dream Team 3-4-3 football formation

Ilsekns, Moni, Liua, Adomakoh, Perno, Montalvo, Mejia, and Kim would also be in the mix.

In terms of needs, I would rank them as follows:


Le Roux was largely dependable, but keeper was not a strength.

Right Back

Pando is our best option, but he’s not a natural defender and is more valuable upfield.

Center Back

While we have plenty of respectable options with Salgado, Quezada, Amo, Batista, and Ilskens, only two of these five players are natural CBs.  Also, sliding Batista or Ilskens into the backline might necessitate Feucht playing deeper.  I would like to see him play a more advanced role next year.   We lack depth at the position and Vom Steeg appears to lack confidence here.

Mendoza has a lock on the left back position with a capable backup in Perno.

Our central midfield should be a real strength with Amo, Batista, and Feucht.  Ilskens provides depth as a holding midfielder while Moni provides depth farther upfield.

Our play on the wing and at the point of attack should be strong with most of our options being interchangeable.  Bringing in a quality right back would add Pando as a winger/forward option.

Much can happen in the 9 months (!) until the 2017 version of the Gauchos takes the field, so time will tell which players will be available for selection.


History and form were not on our side.

CSUF coach Kuntz was 4-0 versus UCSB in the Big West tournament.

The Titans were unbeaten (4-0-4) in their last 8.

UCSB was coming off a loss, a ten day layoff, and had scored just 1 goal in the prior 3 matches.

Despite UCSB’s historical dominance in the Big West regular season, we’re just 5-6-1 in the tournament.

UCSB under-performed at home (4-4-2) this year compared to the road (6-2-1).

I am going to dispense with a recap of the match and speak more generally.

If I can sum up our woes this year, it’s the fact that we were switched off far too often.  This lack of focus manifested itself in a variety of ways… missed marks near the box, inconsistent routine passing, and poor finishing.  Typically, it required adversity to motivate the team to switch on and play something that resembled good soccer.  At Sac State, we had a 5 minutes stretch where possessed, moved for each other, and worked the ball around.  That several minute spell led to our goal.  Otherwise, our play was disjointed.  Versus Fullerton, it required going down 0-2 for us to start attacking with energy.  The frustrating thing for a soccer junkie like me is to know how good this team could play with the talent we had, but the team collectively decided that it wouldn’t.  Mentality is an under-valued aspect of soccer, and if players with questionable mentalities form a team, that team’s ceiling is limited.

Offensively, this year’s team had just one clutch player, and his name is Kevin Feucht.  While other players showed flashes in matches and were in form for stretches (Selemani), it just wasn’t enough.  Sure enough, when we needed a goal versus CSUF, it was Feucht that delivered.

If there is one play that encapsulated the season for me, it came last night that started with a CSUF corner.  The sequence starts at 41:25:

Feucht headed the ball out of danger and Espana did well to win the ball.  Espana now has some space, and he decides to carry the ball himself.  Feucht, who started the play deep in our own end, sprints upfield to make himself available.  Espana decides to make a difficult move on a defender who closed him down, the ball luckily lands back into his path, but in that chaos, another defender was able to challenge him from behind and disrupt the counter-attack.  Fans of Espana will likely point out that Espana has been dinged up this year and to cut him some slack.  I would counter by saying he’s dinged up because he holds onto the ball too damn long, especially on counter attacks, and allows players to dangerously tackle him from behind.  The point is that this type of play by someone that Vom Steeg repeatedly says is our best player prevented us from achieving more success.  Thus ends a frustrating 2 years of a player who was too happy to have the ball on his own foot.  I want to be clear… Espana is not to blame for the end of our season.  His play was symbolic of our ills, and it concerns me that Vom Steeg holds him up (which includes his mentality) as our best player and in doing so, TVS encourages his play which I find counterproductive.  We appear to value different types of players.

The lack of consistent and clutch play was only one reason we will miss out on the NCAA tournament.  Oh, no, this was a two-headed monster.  Actually, the main reason we missed out was the RPI.  Prior to conference play even starting, the die had been cast…  the Big West would be just a one bid conference with that one bid coming in the form of the Big West conference tournament champion.  Nothing went our way RPI-wise:

  1.  Our out-of-conference (OOC) foes way under-performed.
  2. Most of the Big West teams were mediocre while Poly and Irvine were drags that ensured the conference would be below average.
  3. The West did poorly versus the East which pulled RPI values away from our geographical region.

Even if we had flipped a couple of our losses into wins, it wouldn’t have mattered.  It was clear early on that we ultimately needed the auto-bid, and we know how that turned out.

I plan to write a preview for 2017 in the coming days, so check back.  I’m actually quite optimistic about what the future holds.