Here is a detailed look at the Big West League that starts up this Wednesday, September 30th. We are doing a breakdown of team tactics, coaches, formations, players to watch, and of course the inevitable predictions. Note that in college soccer, this craft is a difficult one since it’s a crap shoot and at times the games turn into rugby matches.
Record and Formation
The Gauchos are currently 6-2-1, 1-0 and ranked 10th nationally. They have been playing a 3-5-2 formation for most of the preseason with occasional variation of a 3-4-3. The strength of this team is that they have a good formula to be successful at the college level. Great athletic GK, physical and experienced back line, talented midfielders, and quality/athletic forwards that can finish.
The goalkeeper Sam Hayden, a junior college transfer from Yavapai College in Arizona is very good! Has good mobility and is stellar in the air which is crucial for the college game of long ball, crosses, set pieces, and long throw ins.
The back line of 3 is completely international. Hedevag (Sweden), Hoyle(England), and Boxall (New Zealand) are all physical and solid in the back. They are ideal for set piece defense and offense in the college game. Hedevag is a beast in the air and tracks the ball well. He currently has 4 goals on the season to prove it.
The Center mid trio of Silva, Barrera, and David complement each other perfectly. They all have great technique and field vision! Silva is the most complete of the 3 and makes things run smooth in the middle of the park. Barrera is the most creative and has the best passing range with his left foot. David has good field awareness and pushes forward well. The wide mids are Tettah and Ibrahim. Both players were born in Ghana and have the patented African soccer flair in the smoothness of their play. Quality African players are just as calm and technical on the ball as Brazilians. They are a joy to watch!
Up front UCSB has possibly the most dangerous offensive weapon in the Big West Conference in freshmen Michael Nonni. This kid has a pretty complete game. His movements and runs off the ball are brilliant! Add his blistering pace and good technique and you have a hand-full to deal. It’s no accident that he leads his team with 4 goals and 5 assists for 13 points to date. David Walker is the other forward and he is dangerous with his pace and dribbling ability.
*Also note that most of these players are poly functional and can play multiple positions and adapt to different systems of play. Hedevag can play def-mid. Silva can play center back. Tettah can play center mid or left back. Barrera can play out wide.
Coaching: Tim Vom Steeg is in a league of his own in this conference since he has built a national powerhouse at UCSB. They have been consistent over the years and results are no accident. The guy knows how to recruit. Many may cry foul play when he goes overseas andsigns international players. He has built a winner!!! Who doesn’t want to play for a winner that has huge crowds and national attention? These types of things come with creativity and hard work. My message to the rest, stop complaining about limited resources and get to work! We will give him a pre-league rating of an A and evaluate this team further during league play to report on his tactical awareness and game coaching.
3four3.com Big West Selections: Nonni, Silva, Boxall, Hayden, Tettah
Predicted League Finish: 1st
2. UC Irvine
Record and Formation
The Anteaters are currently 6-3, 0-1 and ranked 26th nationally. They have been playing the standard 4-4-2 formation to date. UCI has been playing a different type of soccer than what is normally seen at the college level. I am talking about possession! They actually treat the ball well at times during the course of a game. Their back line rarely skips the midfield and plays it long to the forwards. That is a rarity in the college game!
The goalkeeper is Andrew Fontein, a sophmore out of Las Vegas. He took the conference by storm last season posting brilliant numbers and winning Freshmen of the Year in the process. Without his stellar performances, UCI does not win the Big West last season. The Anteaters will need much of the same if they are to repeat as champions.
The back line has looked steady and solid so far this season. Like I said, their strength is that they look to keep possession out of the back and connect passes to their midfielders. They do their jobs well! If you are familiar with world class soccer, defenders are not play makers. They should not be attempting to play through balls to the forwards. They are to defend and connect out of the back the highest percentage pass possible. Turner, Shuffle, Bagby, and Attaway are doing a good job of this.
The UCI midfield has plenty of creativity! They return an All-American in senior Irving Garcia. His dribbling ability is second to none in the conference. The anteaters will need him to duplicate his numbers from last season if they aspire to retain their conference crown. Garcia has some pretty good company next to him in senior Carlos Aguilar and freshman Jonathan Prieto. The three of them have formed a great trio andspeak the same soccer language. They all switch positions in attack throughout the course of the game. This keeps the opposition needing to adjust to marking players with different characteristics. For the most part, look for Aguilar to be on the right side of midfield, Garcia on the left, and Prieto pulling the strings in the middle. It is a joy to see the composure and field awareness Prieto brings to the game. He knows where every player is on the field at all times. His decision making is exceptional! Along with UCSB’s Nonni, this is the other candidate for the conference freshmen of the year. Playing the holding mid roll will be junior team captain Gray Bailey. He has yet to play this season due to injury but should be back in the line up shortly. Gray is an excellent defensive mid since he makes the high percentage pass andrarely loses possession. He will fit in nice with the trio of Garcia, Prieto, Aguilar. Corey Attaway has filled his shoes well and played brilliantly in the middle.
Up top the Anteaters boast 2 very athletic players in junior duo Amani Walker and Spencer Thompson. These two have been playing together for 2 years now and have good chemistry. Walkers big physical presence works well in the college game as he is a big target player and wins balls in the air. Thompson gives UCI a deep threat with his power and pace. They both cause a lot of problems for opposing defenses with their physical play and have a great midfield to feed them constantly. If they can finish the supply they will get, UCI can repeat as league champs!
Coaching: George Kuntz is now in a position to close the gap on UCSB and take UCI to new heights if he can manage to guide this team to another conference championship or NCAA appearance. He has done a good job of getting his team to attempt to play possession soccer. That has great merit in itself instead of preaching the kick and run style so many college teams and US Soccer teams employ. Results will dictate how close or how far Kuntz is to building a powerhouse in Orange County. We are giving him a A- until he can dethrone UCSB for a 2nd straight season.
3four3.com Big West Selections:Prieto, Garcia, Attaway
Predicted League Finish:2nd
Record and Formation
The Matadors have begun the season 5-2-1 and were ranked 24th in the national poll last week before dropping a game to Coastal Carolina andtying Denver over the weekend at Cal State Fullerton. They are enjoying one of their better starts in recent history. They have been employing a 4-4-2 formation and attempting to play good soccer. The key to the Matadors success is the return of their best player Rafael Garcia. He is the engine midfield and a great season from Garcia will lead Northridge to the top of the pack in the Big West.
It appears the GK position is a toss up between Ibarra and Abalos. Ibarra started and played the first 4 games of the season. Abalos took over and played the last 4 games. I’m sure we will know come Wednesday night @ UC Riverside who coach Davila will start in the Big West under the pipes. Neither have any college experience prior to this season and will need to play big to keep the Matadors in contention.
The back four have been pretty consistent throughout the preseason. They have logged a lot of minutes together and look certain to start with Franco, Chavez, Borak, and Riley. Like I said, they attempt to play possession out of the back much like UCI does and the key here is these guys getting the ball to Garcia to make the decisions for them. Defensively, they should not have trouble with many conference foes except the talented attackers UCSB and UCI will throw at them. Franco is as intelligent of an outside back as there is in the Big West. Not a big body, but has been well coached and has a soccer brain to make up the difference.
The Midfield is anchored by Rafael Garcia who missed last season with a torn ACL. He is a big time player and exactly what a holding mid should be! He has great field awareness, good decision making, and moves the ball to the right place. He is easily the best holding mid in the conference. Rodriguez and Kim will play on the right and left mids respectively. Kim is a great dribbler of the ball and always dangerous. He is tough to handle in 1 v 1 situations. Anguiano will play offensive mid for the Matadors andshare those responsibilities with several players off the bench like Smith, Gil, and Radovic.
Up top the constant is Sims. His work rate is second to none in the conference. He leads the team with 3 goals so far. Partnering him will be Deldo who also missed last season with a torn ACL. Deldo is a perfect complement to Sims game and links up well from midfield. Moy Gomez will be an option coming off the bench.
Coaching: Terry Davila has posted impressive numbers and is the closest thing there is to Tim Vom Steeg in the conference in terms of winning percentage. He has assembled a good coaching staff and recruit decent local talent from the valley. He was able to somehow compete in the conference last season without 2 of his key guys. Terry has got a talented roster and several freshmen who will redshirt this season but bring the program a ton of depth in the coming years. Grade? B
3four3.com Big West Selections: Garcia, Franco
Predicted League Finish: 3rd
4. Cal Poly SLO
The Mustangs have gotten off to a dismal start to their 2009 campaign with a 2-6 preseason record. Not the best start to the season for a program that has been on the rise the past 3 seasons since Paul Holocher took over the helm. The Mustangs have been a shade of the dangerous squad they boasted last season and have not found their line-up heading into League play. That is not the ideal way to enter league in hopes of earning a conference tournament bid with a top 4 finish. Their overall record will haunt them unless they can win the Conference Tournament.
Patrick Mclain was starting in the goal early in the season but has since lost his spot to freshman Brett Finkelstein. Can Finkelstein live up to the hype heaped on him as a highly touted recruit? He will have to exceed last years freshmen of the year in Fontein at UCI if SLO is to compete in conference.
The back line is about the only thing that has been a constant in the opening 8 games. Josh Didion, Patrick Sigler, and Cameron Walters will anchor the back line and attempt to protect the freshman GK.
The Midfield is pretty young but experienced. Wes Feighners pace out wide will be key to opening up games for the Mustangs. He had some great performances as a freshman and will surely not surprise many people this season. Ryan Anderson, Brian Jones, and Jacob Hustedt have all gotten big minutes and look certain to play a big part in conference play. Junior Burgos is a creative player that can give the Mustangs a different look in midfield. Will be interesting to see if he has won himself a starting role heading into league play. Ben Fisk is another Freshman that has got a big share of minutes.
David Zamorawill be the key in the Mustangs run to finish top 4 in league. The question is who will partner him in the line up? Will Feighner play up top? Or will Cumming, Gaschen, White, or Myerson step up their play to solidify a starting role? Interesting to see who plays up top @ Cal State Fullerton tonight.
Coaching: Paul Holocher has had success building the program over 3 years. Has it all crumbled with this 2-6 start? We will see the type of coach he is during Big West play. Can he regroup the troops and finish the season strong and over .500? He has a huge roster at his disposal, but how much quality is there? What he lacks in quality he will have to make up in game planning and coaching. Believe me, you can do more than less and it looks like Holocher will have his work cut out for him. Grade – C
3four3.com Big West Selections: none
Players to keep an eye on:Feighner, Zamora, Burgos
Predicted League Finish:4th
5. UC Davis
The Aggies are coming into league with a 3-6 record and look at this year as a rebuilding season after two consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. They lost a big chunk of their starting line-up and return only a few players with “college experience.” Several freshman have seen significant minutes during the preseason and will continue to get a bulk of minutes heading into Big West play. The Aggies are known for their physical play! This year will be no different. They will be missing 2 players andtheir coach on red card suspension as they open league play tonight at UC Irvine. They have not founda set formation in the preseason yet. They have tinkered around with a 4-3-3, a 4-4-2, and look to open league play with a 3-5-2 formation.
Junior Ryan McCowanwill start in goal for the Aggies. He has plenty of experience as he finished off his freshmen season in goal (including NCAA games) andstarted all 22 games last season. Can he be big in the goal with some many inexperienced players on the field? We will see! He has conceded 15 goals in 9 preseason games to date.
The back line is set in stone! Dan Reese, Lance Patterson,and Nathan Javadiwill get the nod as they have all season long. They have adjusted and played with a back line of 3 over the last 3 games. It is a tough thing to do unless you have very solid 1 v 1 defenders that can be compact and not get beat when isolated numerous times throughout the game. Honestly, it will be a tall task to play unless the outside mids transition quickly to make the back line of 3 a line of 5.
The midfield is where there has been little to no consistency in trying to find the line up during 9 preseason games. It appears coach Shaffer has found his solution by altering his system including a 5 man midfield in Beville, Marcoux, Godinez, Santos,and Barron. We will see how this midfield sets up in league play. Do their outside mids transition to help the back line of 3? Does the holding mid stay close to the back line to protect them in conference play? They will have to play their lines tight to be able to slow down the top Big West attacks.
Up top, Chris Leer is a senior who has played in all games to date tallying 1 goal and 4 assists. Partnering him will be freshman Michael Garrickwho appears to have beaten out sophmore John Joslin. They will have to pick up the slack because 11 goals in 9 games will not get it done in conference play (6 of the 11 being against weak opposition in UNLV tournament).
Coaching: Dwayne Shaffer has done a good job in his 13 years at UC Davis. It is undeniable that he has gotten great results, especially the last 2 seasons getting into the NCAA tournament. He has made the confines of Aggie stadium his fortress in the process by going 12 games unbeaten heading into the season. Time will tell if this stat can hold up this season. I think they will have a hard time cracking the conference tournament. The challenge has been served, once again, can a coach do more with less at his disposal? I see UC Davis battling with Fullerton and Riverside for avoiding the bottom of the table then competing at the top. Grade – C
3four3.com Big West Selections: none
Players to keep an eye on:Godinez, Barron, Marcoux
Predicted League Finish:5th or 6th
The Titans have gotten off to one of their best starts in recent memory with a 4-3-1 record to date. Sounds like a promising season is finally in the works for the Titans right? I am seriously doubting they will compete in the Big West this season. They will battle it out with UC Riverside to see who avoids the bottom of the standings. They have played a soft schedule with only 2 tough games in UCLA and Ohio State, both losses. They have tinkered with the line up in preseason, even moving Center Back Matt Sanders to play forward. Talk about fish out of water! There is not much creativity in the line-up and the team lacks an identity.
Trevor Whiddonwill be starting in goal and will have another tough task in front of him as have most Titan GK in years past. It could be even worse if Matt Sanders does end up playing as a forward instead of at Center Back. Trevor should be in good hands though since Head Coach Bob Ammann was a GK in his playing days.
The back line does not look good on paper if Matt Sanders will be playing high. Only Bobby Reis has good defensive ability and organizational skills in the back. It will be a tough task for him to handle alone. Shay Spitz has got some quality going forward but isn’t exactly a natural defender and the Titans will be tested by the top tier forwards in the conference. Jonathan Birt and Justin Burney will have a tough time guarding a Feigner, Nonni, or Thomspson. Keeping possession is something the Titans have a tough time doing out of the back. Their defenders end up being their “playmakers” because of the limited technical ability they possess or because they aren’t being instructed otherwise. With no possession, they will be forced to deal with constant wave of attacks that they are not ready to cope with. TJ Detviller will be missed as he is no longer on the Titans roster.
The midfield will be anchored by Michael Denny who will be playing holding mid. Denny is one of the few Titans with a good soccer IQ who makes good decisions with the ball when he has possession of it. Hopefully he can get more touches in the midfield so that he can distribute the ball well instead of the patented long ball and hoping the 2nd ball falls to his feet. Kevin Venegas will also see plenty of time on the field after earning significant time as a freshman last season. Kevin is one of the best pure dribblers in the conference. If he can add some field awareness and make better decisions he would be a super player! He gets caught dribbling when he should pass, passing when he should shoot, shooting when he should dribble. You get the picture? Hopefully the coaches have helped Kevin develop this aspect of his game to make him a more complete player. Mario Alvarez and Antonio Vernaschi looked to have secured the other two spots in midfield. The Titans will sorely miss Jose “Choco” Gomez creativity in the midfield as he has also moved on.
Up top, Celso Alvarezand Matt Sanders look certain to get the nod. I am not convinced these two can form any type of partership as they are not true strikers. Bothlack all the qualities forwards need. Sanders should be in the back line with his physical attributes in order for Fullerton to be competitive. Oscar Aguero is a player that should get more field time and has a lot more to offer than any other offensive minded Titan.
Coaching: Bob Ammann is in his fourth season as head coach of the Titans. Upon taking over the program, his quote was that he is looking forward to getting the program back to prominence. 3 seasons and a record of 19-35-5 to date has him very distant from that goal. The outlook for this season is not a good one. A decent preseason record against weak opposition will not get it done in the Big West. It’s hard to understand how a school in the heart of Orange County, with the facility at their disposal that rivals the best in the country has not done a better job of performing at a high standard. The “star” recruits Bob has landed over the last 3 seasons in charge have all LEFT THE PROGRAM. I am referring to Michael and Gabriel Farfan, TJ Detviller, and Jose Gomez. Something is wrong with this picture. Grade? F Poor recruiting, poor results, poor soccer, poor attendance. Here’s hoping they can prove me wrong this season with FACTS instead of just talking. Talk is cheap!
3four3.com Big West Selections: none
Players to keep an eye on:Reiss, Denny, Aguero
Predicted League Finish:6th or 7th
7. UC Riverside
The Highlanders have opened up 1-6 for the season and look destined to be the leagues doormats again this season. Not much has changed over the course of the last year. A lot of freshman coming in are seeing big minutes on the field. Little to no veteran impact players will lead to the struggles at UCR. They have tinkered with the formation all preseason so there is no set starting line-up. We will report further on the Highlanders when I actually get out there to see a match in the coming week.
Predicted League Finish:6th or 7th
The UCR preview will be up shortly, wanted to post the article in time for Big West kickoff tonight.