Gauchos go overtime with soccer recruiting

July 16, 2009

For UCSB, it was to laugh when Soccer America picked May Day to parade out the top recruiting classes for the 2009 men's college season. Talk about your (cringe) Russian it.

The Gauchos, whose recruits were ranked 11th, might liken that to picking through an egg carton to decide which chicken to grill for the Fourth of July barbecue.

UCSB soccer coach Tim Vom Steeg doesn't count his eggs until the heat of summer. And the three recruits that he hatched on Wednesday - Michael Nonni, Josue Madueno and Stephen Boyle - are all grade-AA golden.

"I feel like we get a little bit lucky later in the game," he said. "This can only happen in college soccer. In no other sport do you have players of this ability available so late in the game."

How late? UCSB starts practice in just 30 days.

Nonni is a top forward out of Western Canada. Madueno, a forward from Northern California, and Boyle, a defender from Arizona, are elite American high school prospects.

Impact players all, Vom Steeg said. In fact, they each remind him of a former Gaucho great.

"Michael Nonni has a style of play that most resembles (Chris) Pontius'," he said, referring to last year's goal-scoring machine who now starts for Major League Soccer's D.C. United. "Josue is the best dribbler of the ball that we have recruited since Eric Avila (now of FC Dallas)."

And he said Boyle is "in the same mold" as 2004 College Cup star Tony Lochhead: "Stephen is left-footed, big, strong, physical and very good going forward."

Vom Steeg doesn't consider last to be least when it comes to recruiting. That's because he'll wait longer to get a yes than most college coaches.

"Unlike some other programs, we don't really release recruits ó especially big, impact players," he said. "Pontius was the last player we signed four years ago. This past year, Luis Silva was the last player we signed."

For many top recruits, the question that makes them pause is not which college to attend, but whether they should bother with college at all.

"What happens is that we'll recruit players who have a chance to go professional," Vom Steeg said. "Sometimes, grades might be an issue. For a variety of reasons, we'll get a case like Boyle, who we really liked early on, but there was always the possibility that he might get a better offer somewhere else.

"It's very, very hard for us to pass on them."

Grades actually were an issue for Madueno, a U-18 National Team Camper: His were so good (3.8 GPA) that college wound up taking precedence.

"If he'd gotten a 2.5, he'd be going pro right now," Vom Steeg said.

Nonni considered an early entry into the pros but made the same decision as the late-arriving Pontius four years earlier.

"Honestly, the success that Pontius has been having helped us get Nonni," Vom Steeg said. "The fact that you can go to college and get a degree doesn't mean you're giving up professional soccer down the road.

"That was a big selling point with him."

Another was made when the NCAA announced on May 13 that UCSB had won the bid for the 2010 NCAA College Cup. The recruits realized that Soccer Town is more than just a marketing jingle in Santa Barbara.

"It's all a package deal," Vom Steeg said. "We also have several players in our program who'll have the opportunity to move on after this season, but they're all very committed to staying together collectively ó at least through 2010."

The Gauchos' College Cup now actually runneths over: This week's additions swell their incoming class to 13 players, adding to last year's 16-recruit class that was ranked sixth by Soccer America.

Vom Steeg expects 36 players to arrive for practice on Aug. 15, with room for no more than 30.

"This will be the first time since my first year that we'll have cuts coming out of preseason, with the roster already set," Vom Steeg said. "It won't mean that we'll be done with those other players, though. Some will be taking a forced redshirt.

"After all, we're going to lose a lot of players after 2010. Plus our recruiting class is going to be small next year."

Depending, of course, on how UCSB's recruiters choose to play next summer's game of chicken.

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

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