Men's Soccer Season Preview Pt. II: Continuity in the Midfield

Men's Soccer Season Preview Pt. II: Continuity in the Midfield

This is the second of a three-part, week-long series previewing the upcoming 2016 UCSB men's soccer season ahead of Saturday's campaign-opening exhibition against Westmont. Today's preview will break down UCSB's midfielders.

Thanks to the MLS draft, graduations, shifting positions, and the temptation of pro soccer abroad, UC Santa Barbara head coach Tim Vom Steeg has had to rebuild or re-tool his midfield on a near-annual basis. 

But this season the 18th year bench boss is more than pleased about the fact that he will be returning three starting midfielders, something the Gauchos haven't been able to say since the Luis Silva years. 

In junior Kevin Feucht and seniors Andy Perez and Josue España, the Gauchos have the foundation to out-battle and out-possess in the middle of the park against any team nationwide.

"Our expectations are high because we have three quality midfielders with a lot of experience coming back alongside two dangerous forwards in Nick DePuy and Ahinga Selemani," said Vom Steeg. "Because of the attention that Nick is going to be getting, it will be up to the midfield to open things up and create opportunities for our forwards."

Luckily for the Gauchos, that midfield trio has more than displayed their credentials as productive players at the NCAA level and they are all locks to log heavy minutes on the field. 

In 2015, Feucht was a key to UCSB's success despite being in his first season at the Division I level. He was a ferocious ball-winner, was able to threaten when he got forward, and was a perfect 4-4 from the penalty spot.

His strong all-around play led to selections to the All-Big West and All-Far West Region First Teams. A year older and with a full season of Div. I soccer in the bank, the physical 6-3 German should be an even more imposing presence in the middle of the park in his junior season.

One of the finest playmakers around, España will be looking to build on a junior season that saw him earn First Team All-Big West status after recording eight points (two goals, four assists). Like fellow transfers Feucht and Selemani, he should benefit from having a full season of Big West soccer under his belt.

Perhaps one of the more underrated players on the Gaucho roster is Perez, who has appeared in 28 of UCSB's last 29 games and provided rock-solid two-way play at midfield and right back. Solid on the ball and responsible defensively, expect Perez to draw more attention in his senior year. 

Thanks to an impressive training camp, incoming freshman Daniel Amo looks to have the first crack at the vacancy on the left side created by Geoffrey Acheampong's departure to the pro ranks. 

A Right to Dream product who played high school soccer in Connecticut, Amo has impressed the coaching staff with his advanced level of play.

"This is a kid who is physically and mentally prepared to play college soccer," said Vom Steeg. "He's a two-way, dependable midfielder and we think he would have been more highly touted if it weren't for the fact he played high school soccer instead of academy."

Not unlilke previous years, Vom Steeg is going to ask a lot of his mids.

"With us playing in a two-forward formation and most other schools playing one, our mids need to cover the same area as the opponents' five," said Vom Steeg. "So much of our game is going to be predicated on keeping our two forwards up the field, so we're looking to our midfielders to allow us to keep them there."

Behind those four, a number of talented underclassmen are knocking on the door. 

Sophomore Kosti Moni will look to put his name on the scoresheet more often this season after he was rewarded with just one assist as a freshman despite creating plenty of chances in his 15 appearances. 

Newcomers Omar Montalvo (Santa Barbara City College transfer) and Riley Peterson (formerly of the UCSB club soccer team) will also look to make their marks in 2016.

Montalvo, a Goleta native, was a two-year mainstay with the Vaqueros, appearing in 27 games over two years. Peterson helped UCSB to an undefeated regular season this past spring and was a star at Coronado High School, where he won three CIF Championships. 

Finally, while they are currently slated to receive more playing time on the backline, freshman Mateo Restrepo Mejia and sophomore Dalton Pando figure to appear in the middle of the park at times as well. 

In all, the continuity and proven track records of the midfield was a key reason the team received the No. 13 national preseason ranking and was unanimously selected to win the Big West North Division this upcoming season. With three experienced mids helping groom a talented batch of newcomers, it will be hard to beat UCSB in the midfield this season. 

UCSB's annual scrimmage against Westmont this Saturday will kick off an 11-game home schedule featuring some of the biggest names in west coast soccer like UCLA, Cal, UC Irvine, Cal Poly, and LMU.

To reserve your season tickets today, click here or call the UCSB Athletics Ticket Office at 805-893-UCSB (8272).