Gauchos put best feet forward

By Mark Patton, Santa Barbara News-Press Senior Writer

The honchos and pundits of Major League Soccer have analyzed today's SuperDraft so painstakingly that UCSB's Luis Silva and Sam Garza would just as soon boot their laptop computers out of a stadium.

"I'm trying not to pay attention to the mock drafts and all those other things, to be honest," a weary Silva conceded.

"I used to look at it on the internet, but not anymore," Garza said. "They don't really know everything because they're all over the place with it."

The Gauchos' two pro-bound players have had to deal with everything but getting their palms read, and that includes having the soles of their feet painted different colors on Wednesday.

Silva, Garza and four other projected first-rounders helped create an 18-foot-long abstract painting called "Creating the Beautiful Game" at Kansas City's Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

"It was crazy, but they had three of the players walk on a green canvas after dipping their bare feet in paint," Silva said. "Then they had Sam Garza, Casey Townsend (of Maryland) and myself do the same in these adidas cleats they put on us, just walking around on it, before dropping some painted orange balls on the canvas and having us pass and dribble them around.

"I think it was just a coincidence that they had me do it in blue and yellow."

And a good omen, perhaps, to have him strutting around in Gaucho colors?

Silva painted a masterpiece during his three games at the MLS combine in Florida, leading his team to a 3-0 record which included a 4-1 rout of Garza's team in Tuesday's finale. The internet was abuzz about the rising stock of the Gauchos' senior midfielder, with Franco Panizo of "Soccer By Ives" even calling him "arguably the best player throughout the three days of the combine."

Garza was also an impressionist with his feet, sprinting past defenders in Florida and then moonwalking across the canvas in Kansas City. Foxsports.com reported that, "On the flanks, Sam Garza has been the most impressive wing player, with his speed and creativity making him tough to contain."

UCSB coach Tim Vom Steeg has been getting calls from MLS officials saying that Silva will be selected anywhere from No. 3 to No. 7, with Garza going right behind him.

"What Silva did was show most people that he can play at that end of the field in the MLS right away, and in a very difficult position (center midfield)," he said. "Garza is a no-brainer for most people because he can play so many different positions and change the game with the way he can pick up a ball and run with it."

Garza, a junior forward who has already signed a Generation adidas contract, dipped his cleats in white paint on Wednesday before strolling backwards on the canvas and then kicking the orange ball around with Silva.

"It was like old times," he said. "It was nuts, there were so many people there."

They included a few nervous museum officials, who watched the two painted balls get batted around near some priceless pieces of art.

Silva was admittedly disappointed last year when he didn't get his own Generation adidas offer, which guarantees MLS money to collegiate underclassmen.

"I was trying to prove something to all those people who thought I wasn't ready," he said. "It was a motivation for me.

"Dreaming about the pros is something you have in you when you start playing soccer. I started when I was 5 or 6, and I always looked up to the professional players and wanted to be like them, but it's not until you hit your teen years when you start taking those things seriously."

There are some intriguing possibilities for Silva. He could go at No. 4 with Toronto FC, where former UCSB assistant coach Leo Chappel now toils. Chappel has already had the club trade for former Gauchos Andy Iro and Eric Avila.

Or he could return to California by getting picked at either No. 5 by Chivas USA, joining former UCSB goalkeeper Danny Kennedy, or at No. 6 by the San Jose Earthquakes. At No. 7, he'd rejoin his former Gaucho teammate, Chris Pontius, at DC United.

"To be honest, I'll be happy just getting drafted in the first round," Silva said. "It'll be a dream come true no matter if I go first or last in the first round."

The mock drafts had Garza going anywhere from ninth to 18th, although Draftsite.com at least applied some logic to its prediction of No. 11 by FC Dallas: Garza trained with that club when he went home to Texas last summer.

"That was a good opportunity for me to see what the pro environment was like," he said. "That would be fun, but I think I'd also like to branch out from Texas and start a new chapter.

"But it really is all kind of up in the air."

They aren't the only Gauchos headed for the pros, either. Senior defenders James Kiffe and Tim Pontius are both projected as supplemental draft picks, since the SuperDraft was reduced to just two rounds this year.

Kiffe, who was injured at the end of UCSB's fall season, scored a goal in the combine after a rusty start in the opener.

"I played in that first game against Kiffe and actually took two or three balls away from him," Silva said with a laugh. "I've played with him so much that I was able to read what he was going to do, and we both had a pretty good laugh about it afterward."

And after today, he can keep laughing all the way to the bank.

Mark Patton's column appears on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Email: mpatton@newspress.com