By Mark Patton, Santa Barbara News-Press
Dom Sarle seemed like a fish out of water when he transferred to UCSB this fall.
The New Yorker has steered clear of both the ocean and the Halloween abyss of Isla Vista since arriving this fall to play for the Gauchos' 23rd-ranked soccer team.
"I haven't learned how to surf - I'm a little shark-scared," said the sophomore forward from St. John's University. "I wanted to learn, but I don't think I'm going to get out there anytime soon.
"And I've heard stories about Halloween here, and I'm not going to walk the streets. I'm going to stay safe. I'm not sure which is more dangerous, the sharks or Isla Vista."
Or Dom Sarle on a soccer pitch.
He's been the calm head that's kept the roller-coaster Gauchos on track in an up-and-down soccer season.
"He brings that work rate and energy and that no-nonsense kind of commitment which we kind of struggle with," UCSB coach Tim Vom Steeg said. "The California kids are real feel-good kind of players. They play on the day. They play when it feels good.
"With Dom, you know what you're going to get every time you put him on the field ... A tireless worker."
Sarle helped the Gauchos, 11-5-1 overall, bounce back from a two-game losing streak with wins last week over UC Davis and Cal State Fullerton.
They hold down fourth place in the Big West Conference with a 4-4 record, and only four teams get to play in the league tournament. UCSB will need to win or tie at fifth-place Cal State Northridge tonight to remain in playoff range, with just Friday's Fox Soccer Channel match against Cal Poly remaining.
Sarle has maintained a pragmatic approach even as four starters went down with season-ending injuries.
"We can't say, 'I wish we had this guy,' or 'I wish we had that guy,' " he said. "We don't have them. It's unfortunate that they got injured, but you have to keep playing and hopefully we'll get more healthy the next couple of games.
"Everyone's done well and has been working hard in practice to come in and take their spots. You've got to get it together when guys go down."
Sarle had earned All-Big East Conference and All-Rookie team honors at St. John's last year, but he tired of kicking a frozen soccer ball.
"I loved my team, but it's tough to get up for games on the East Coast when you're playing in 20-degree weather," he said. "I asked for my release and started looking at schools.
"I remembered Leo (Chappel, former UCSB assistant coach) talking to me throughout the recruiting process, and telling me that if things didn't work out to give him a call."
Sarle was sold after watching Akron beat Louisville on TV in December's College Cup final at UCSB's toasty-warm Harder Stadium.
"It just looked like an awesome place to play," he said. "I'd never been here, although my grandpa (Arthur Torrellas) lives in Orange County. I saw the crowds, even for games that weren't Santa Barbara teams in the College Cup, and it just made me really excited to play here."
He brought an international resume to UCSB, having played in the U17 World Cup and making the U20 U.S. National Team roster. He had already escaped the hometown cold of Huntington, N.Y. when he was invited to attend Bradenton Prep and the U.S. Residency Program in Florida.
"Dom is very unique because he has what we call a huge soccer brain," Vom Steeg said. "He really gets the game, he knows how to settle the thing down. He's very unflappable on the field.
"When things get frantic, he's the one guy that can control things, especially around the 18-yard box."
He wondered for awhile where Sarle would best serve the Gauchos, and he finally came to a conclusion: Everywhere. He moves him all over the offensive end of the pitch.
"It's hard to get a read for what exactly is his position because he's not a forward who runs through, but he's very smart," Vom Steeg said. "His head is up, he's very crafty and he's got a great engine on him.
"It's lik that famous conversation of 'What do you do with Landon Donovan?' You play him here, you play him there, and all you know is that, at the end of the day, he gets you points."
Sarle is second on the team in assists with six, which included a big one to Silva in Saturday's 4-3 win at Fullerton.
"(Sam) Garza put me through, I got a great ball, and I just took it down and cut it back - and Silva is always there to finish," he said. "It always seems like that. Playing with him makes life easy."
It was vintage Sarle, Vom Steeg said.
"It was a great run, and he looked up and picked him out - and that's Dom," he said.
Sarle has also scored two goals, which included a go-ahead dazzler in the second half of UCSB's 3-2 win over national champion Akron. He had his back to the goal when Josue Madueno's header landed at his feet. He deftly kicked the ball over his left shoulder, turned and sent his shot into the low left corner of the goal.
"He's pigeon-toed, and the ball stays so close to his feet," Vom Steeg said. "He can be in the 18-yard box and it goes 'boom-boom,' and it's like a duck walking.
"He's able to keep the thing so tight to his body, and his cut is so sharp, that even in an incredibly tight space, he's able to play out of that. It's what you saw in that Akron goal."
The toughest part of Sarle's season has been the distance from home. His biography on UCSB's web site says he "can't do without his parents," Dom and Pat.
"It's definitely the biggest downside, being away from family. It's tough," he said. "Everyone follows me ... My parents, my brother (Pete). They listen to all the games. They all love me and they want me to do well.
"As far as missing family goes, it's unfortunate, but sometimes you have to make sacrifices. But I love the team, and I love the school."
And he had 13,772 loving him during move-in weekend at UCSB when the Gauchos played the University of San Diego. He connecte with Silva inside the box for a pair of first-half goals that sent them on their way to a 3-0 victory.
"With the 14,000, it wasn't hard to get up for that game," Sarle said. "You look around and think, 'I didn't see this too much last year.'"
It's enough to make you feel warm and fuzzy, even in the dead of winter.
Mark Patton's column appears on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Email: email@example.com
UCSB will play at Cal State Northridge tonight, Nov. 1 before returning home on Friday to take on Cal Poly in a nationally televised FOX Soccer Channel contests.
Both games will be broadcast live on AM 1290, the Santa Barbara News-Press Radio Station. Gerry Fall will be calling the play-by-play while Mark Patton will cover the color commentary. AM 1290 will air all of the Gauchos' remaining games, including any postseason contests. Fans can also listen online here.
To purchase your tickets to Friday's match, visit the Ticket Office in the ICA Building on campus, call (805) 893-UCSB or click here to buy online.