When I sat down with Arthur Wilkie of KCSB after our season opener versus Saint Mary’s, I said:
“We need to find not only guys who are going to score, but also guys who can set up the goal scorers. Set pieces will also be part of that. We’re going to have to look for some kind of set piece goals.”
When I said this, I knew that Feucht was already lost for the year and that our only returning goal scorer was Billingsley. However, I was expecting that we would have both Ammer and Mendez available. It turned out that due to NCAA rules, Ammer had to sit the first 6 matches of the season and then injured his knee within a couple matches of seeing the pitch. He would then become available again only at season’s end. Mendez would never be cleared to play. Add to that Billingsley getting injured just as he was getting hot, and we could only muster 18 goals from 19 matches. In there included being shut out 8 times. There was reason for optimism when we won our final 2 out-of-conference matches versus very good opponents and then started conference play with 3 straight wins followed by an away draw. Unfortunately, 12 of our 18 goals were scored during that 6 match stretch, where we would score just 3 goals in our last 7 matches.
I also don’t recall us scoring any goals on set pieces unless we count our lone PK of the season that Michael finished at Sacramento State. Wait, I think one of our five goals versus CSUF was from a corner kick.
Also in my preseason chat with Arthur, I offered this perspective:
“Frankly, I’m looking at 2018 when we’re hosting the College Cup as the ultimate goal. I’m hoping that the few seniors we have on this year’s team are going to be able to shepherd these new players, in particular the freshmen, into developing so we can start peaking next year.”
For me, any magic that we might conjure this year would always be a welcome bonus. While it would have been nice to get this young team more experience in more one-and-done matches, our final 4 matches were all meaningful with a seeding or our very existence to play for, and the team came up short on every occasion. So, it would have been naive to think the team would do well in a tournament format even if we had somehow managed to squeak by UCR.
Now, for some good news. A typical starting line-up consisted of 9 freshmen and sophomores and just one senior. Our youngest line-up was our first match versus UCR where we started 6 freshmen, 3 sophomores, 1 junior, and 1 senior. In recent years, we have been a victim of our own success, seeing players leave to go pro, particularly after years when the team did well. We don’t have that problem this year. I don’t foresee any of our current players jumping to the pros, so I expect us to return nearly everyone.
The first big question for next year will be Feucht. While I have heard he will not return to UCSB next Fall due largely to UCSB not offering his preferred degree for graduate school, I hold out hope that he may add a double major to his undergraduate degree before moving on to graduate school.
While Ammer was listed as a junior on the roster, I believe he actually enjoyed sophomore class standing this year. Something similar for Mendez as he was listed as a senior but should have been listed as a junior. Those two players would constitute a formidable central midfield next year. With Feucht thrown into the mix, we would easily have a top 10 midfield. But uncertainty abounds around a graduate school, a knee, and eligibility.
There will be some weaknesses and holes to plug using either players currently on the roster or with newly arriving players . Both outside back positions, defensive midfield, depth at wings, and a quality striker all come to mind.
For me, how we fare the next two years will demonstrate whether the pain of this year was worthwhile. Too often, people judge a situation on its current state rather than how it might fit into a continuum. I happen to be optimistic and believe an upward trend is likely. Others may believe this year portends a pronounced downward slide. Ultimately, what comes later will define the season that has just passed. Stay tuned….