Gauchos Add Ten Recruits on First Day of NLI Signings

Tim Vom Steeg's coaching staff (Photo by Tony Mastres)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Members of the Youth National Team, the best academy programs in the country, and a pair of international standouts highlight the first day of the NLI signing period for head coach Tim Vom Steeg as Gaucho soccer builds an attacking squad for 2014 and beyond.

Included among the new recruits are three LA Galaxy academy members, five other USSF Academy participants, and two international club players. By position, UCSB is adding three forwards, four midfielders, three defenders, and one goalkeeper.

Vom Steeg plans on adding more NLI's to the initial group of 10.

"The 2014 recruiting class builds on the success of this year's freshman group which had five players selected in the Top-100 in the country," said Vom Steeg. "All of the players in the group are freshmen, but they have played at the highest level of youth soccer.  This is also the most players we have signed who have spent time with the U.S  National Team."

"Specifically, we sought to address the areas of greatest need. With the graduation of Achille Campion and Goffin Boyoko, signing forwards was a big priority for us.  We also have been trying to add creative, attacking midfielders and have done so with the players in this group."

"Lastly, we needed to add young talented players to our backline where we graduated three starters in Peter Schmetz, Matt Glodack, and Daniel Welsh."

Opening the signing class are three players from the LA Galaxy Academy: midfielder Adonis Amaya, midfielder Axel Mendez, and defender Jeff Quezada. The trio, alongside current UCSB stars Josh McNeely and Drew Murphy, won a USSF National Championship with the Galaxy in 2011.

Adonis Amaya
Club: LA Galaxy Academy
Hometown: Los Angeles, Calif.
Top Drawer Ranking: No. 15 in Academy-150, No. 4 Southern California Region, No. 5 Midfielder

Lauded as a Top-15 player in the country by Top Drawer Soccer, Amaya had a superlative academy career with Chivas USA and the LA Galaxy, garnering a spot on the U17 US National Team.  A defender on the national team and forward with Chivas and the Galaxy, Amaya has already displayed a unique versatility to his game that should see him thrive no matter where he is on the pitch. Amaya led the Galaxy in goal-scoring last year with 12. With technical ability in the box and speed to utilize on the wing, Amaya should be an immediate contributor for the Gauchos.

"Adonis is already a complete player," said Vom Steeg. "His movement and understanding of the game is excellent and he has been a top goal scorer at every level which will continue even as freshman."

Axel Mendez
Club: LA Galaxy Academy
Hometown: Los Angeles, Calif.
Top Drawer Ranking: No. 32 Southern California Region

Mendez, an attacking mid from Los Angeles, spent time playing for both the Chivas USA and LA Galaxy club teams. Mendez has been on the national radar since winning the U14 Dallas Cup Championship as a member of LAFC, and was a member of the U14 and U15 US National Team pools. Mendez was also a star at Cathedral High School, where he was a three-time honor roll student and mainstay on a team that was ranked No. 1 in the city during his senior year.

"We have not had a player with the ability to change the game with a pass since two-time Big West Midfielder of the Year and U.S. National Team product Danny Barrera," said Vom Steeg. "Axel's vision and understanding of the game sets him apart from almost all players at the youth level."

Jeff Quezada
Club: LA Galaxy Academy
Hometown: Glendale, Calif.
Top Drawer Ranking: No. 29 Southern California Region

Like Mendez, center back Quezada spent time at both Chivas USA (U16) and LA Galaxy (U18) in his academy career, serving as captain of both sides. His high level of play last season led to a call-up with the senior reserve team. He was part of the Southern California Olympic Development Program each year from 2009-11, and also had a prodigious club career with LAFC, highlighted by a trip to the Nike Manchester Cup World Finals in 2011. Quezada was just as impressive in the classroom, maintaining a 4.2 GPA at St. Francis High School and earning a spot in the National Honor Society from 2012-14.

"Jeff Quezada has been the four-year captain of one of the top club teams in the country," said Vom Steeg. "He is also one of the smartest players both on the field and in the classroom that we have ever recruited here at UCSB.  We expect him to continue his leadership role and play a big role in our league-leading defense."

Besides the Galaxy trio, the Gauchos signed five additional academy team members, including four players from the Bay Area.

Dalton Pando
Club: San Jose Earthquakes Academy
Hometown: Sacramento, Calif.
Top Drawer Ranking: No. 50 in Academy-150, No. 4 Northern California Region, No. 19 Forward

Forward Dalton Pando was ranked among the top-50 academy players nationwide by Top Drawer Soccer. Pando has spent time with the U17 US National Team in the residency program, and has trained with prestigious clubs such as Real Salt Lake, Club America, and AS Fiorentina.

"Dalton Pando has physical abilities which set him apart from most forwards in the country," said Vom Steeg. "He combines great technical ability with power and speed.   He is prepared to step in right away at the college level and will cause a lot of problems for defenders in the Big West Conference. "

Alex Liua
Club: San Jose Earthquakes Academy
Hometown: Los Altos, Calif.

Alex Liua, another forward, spent time in the Earthquakes academy, where he created a deadly strike-tandem with Pando. The Los Altos, Calif. native was a force on the club circuit as well, leading Santa Clara Sporting 95B to four consecutive State Cup Championships between 2009-12. He participated in four Olympic Development Program events between 2010-11.

"Alex Liua is a teammate of Dalton and combined they form a very dangerous scoring combination," said Vom Steeg. "His best position at the next level will as a central forward and he has every chance to succeed here."

Denis Kalamar
Club: Seattle Sounders Academy
Hometown: Seattle, Wash.
Top Drawer Ranking: No. 10 Pacific Northwest Region

Fellow USSF forward Denis Kalamar comes to UCSB after spending three years in the Seattle Sounders Academy, where he made the playoffs each year. The striker led the team in goals last year (15 in 14 games played), while finishing second on the squad in goals in 2012. He won a state championship with his club, Washington Premier, in 2009. Kalamar played ODP for three years, helping his team to a regional championship in 2010 with a goal in the final. He graduated a semester early from Shorewood High School in Shoreline, Wash. with a 3.82 GPA, and is already enrolled at UCSB.

"Denis consistently scored goals at the academy level while at one point being the leading goal-scorer in the entire academy," said Vom Steeg. "We are looking for him to do the same here. He is a presence up the field and will provide good strength and mobility as a forward with a knack for getting on the scoresheet."

Brandon Berke
Club: De Anza Force SC
Hometown: San Carlos, Calif.

Rounding out UCSB's Northern California recruits is Brandon Berke, a keeper who played for De Anza Force SC, where he served as team captain.

"Brandon will bring much needed depth to the goalkeeping position and a different dynamic as he is quick off his line, explosive and a great shot stopper," said Vom Steeg.

Dugan Zier
Club: NY Red Bulls Academy
Hometown: New York, NY

A right back from the New York Red Bulls Academy, Dugan Zier was a 2012 U16 Development Academy Champion. His strong play with the Red Bulls resulted in a trial with Italian side Inter Milan. Zier was also a winner of the 2011 U15 Adidas Next Generation Tournament.

"Dugan comes to us from one of the best academies in the country," said Vom Steeg. "He is a smart, technical defender with good instincts. He is also extremely versatile in that he is comfortable at any position in the back."

Julian Busch
Club: 1860 Munich
Hometown: Eichenau, Germany

A German national, Julian Busch played for 1860 Munich in the U17 Bundesliga, facing off against impressive international competition such as Juventus, Liverpool, FC Basel, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, and Schalke 04. The two-way defender can be slotted in at center back and fullback.

"Julian gives us the versatility of a  left-sided central defender and attacking outside back of the likes of James Kiffe," said Vom Steeg. "He comes to UCSB with a fantastic youth team pedigree and possesses a combination of technique and athleticism that will lend to success within our style of play."

Ludwig Ahl
Club: AIK Stockholm
Hometown: Stockholm, Sweden

A forward/attacking midfield hybrid, Ludwig Ahl blossomed in his native Sweden, where he spent time playing for Alvsjo AIK and AIK Stockholm. At Alvsjo, he became the youngest ever player for the club at 16 years old. Finding success there, he moved on to AIK Stockholm, where he reached the U19 Finals in 2013, and was a pool player for the Swedish National Team.

"Ludwig is a dynamic attacking player that plays at that highest amateur level in Sweden for one of the top clubs," said Vom Steeg. "His game most resembles that of former Gaucho great Eric Avila, who was a key part of  the 2006 National Championship team. Ludwig is also very versatile in that he can attack from several different positions and from different places on the field."

These 10 signees will join a UCSB squad that started five freshmen this past season, giving the Gauchos one of the youngest, yet most talented and deep teams in the country. The program will be looking to build on a successful 2013 campaign that saw the team go undefeated in Big West play for just the second time in conference history while earning a No. 10 national seed in the NCAA Tournament, the second highest in school history.