BY ADAM SERRANO
2010 has every chance to be a historic year for the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos.The Gauchos head into 2010 heavy with the burden of expectation after being ranked No.5 in Soccer America’s preseason rankings after returning eight starters from a team that finished 17-5-2 last season.
UCSB will need to deal with the pressure of hosting the College Cup Final Four, but could have its strongest team since winning College Cup in 2006. Despite opening the regular season with a 1-0 loss to Cal State Bakersfield on Wednesday night, the Gauchos remain the West Coast’s best chance to win the College Cup.
To return to their former glories, the Gauchos and head coach Tim Vom Steeg will need to rely on a stout defense led by Goalkeeper Sam Hayden, the Big West Goalkeeper of the year and a stout backline.
Along with the effective goalkeeping of Hayden, the defense is anchored by senior defender Michael Boxall, a three year starter for the Gauchos. Boxall and Hayden will need to steel a defense that has been prone to losing focus over the span of 90 minutes. Despite the success in 2009, the Gauchos were prone to defensive lapses in judgment during the most important matches. In 2010, Vom Steeg will hope that his men mature into Cup contenders.
While many powers including Akron and UCLA lost many players to the lure of the MLS SuperDraft, the Gauchos and their eight returning starters are nearly identical to the 2009 edition. Santa Barbara did lose the services of one key player, David Walker who was drafted by the Houston Dynamo in this year’s SuperDraft after leading the Big West and the team in scoring last season.
With Walker gone, it will be up preseason All-American Danny Barrera to pick up the offensive output. The junior midfielder led all returnees in points with 19 last season starting every game for Santa Barbara. A classic playmaker, it will be Barrera’s responsibility to anchor the Gaucho attack with his speed and passing prowess. In addition to Barrera, Santa Barbara’s offense will be welcome sophomore transfer and U.S. U-20 midfielder Sam Garza from the University of Denver, who may help alleviate the pressure on Barrera.
The Gauchos may be the best chance for the West to return to the College Cup Final, but they are not the only power on the Pacific. UCSB are joined by the team that knocked the Gauchos out of the NCAA tournament, traditional power UCLA, who is ranked No.11 by Soccer America and No.16 Stanford, both who hope to put a dent in the Gauchos claim of West coast dominance.
The Gauchos will now need to rebound after a disappointing opening loss to lowly Cal State Bakersfield as they travel to New Mexico to take on the University of New Mexico on Saturday before returning to Santa Barbara to face Creighton on Tuesday.