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