Fullerton, CA – Saturday’s contest featured two underachieving teams that were looking to hold on for dear life in the Big West. Both sides were in desperate need of 3 points. Luis Silva came into the game and pretty much single-handedly carried the Gauchos to a 4-3 victory – putting on a show in the process. Santa Barbara is now back in the conference and NCAA picture.
UCSB: 3-5-2 to 4-4-2
GK: #1 Andre Grandt
Def: #31 Marshall Cazares, #2 Peter Schmetz, #12 Tim Pontius
Mf: #20 James Kiffe, #14 Nick Ryan, #5 Fifi Baiden, #19 Josue Madueno, #7 Luis Silva
Fw: #17 Sam Garza, #18 David Opoku
GK: #24 Trevor Whiddon
Def: #28 Jesse Vega, #4 Bobby Reiss, #15 Fermin Villalba, #18 Nate Fischer
Mf: #12 Kevin Venegas, #5 Michael Denny, #17 Mark Vasquez, #11 Ritchie Gonzalez
Fw: #9 Oscar Aguero, #29 Jesse Escalante
The Gaucho’s inconsistent form during Big West play coming into this match was a huge cause for concern. Couple that with injuries to key pieces Machael David and Michael Nonni who haven’t seen the field in the last several weeks, and it’s been a recipe for disaster. On the bright side, there is enough match-winning talent that enables UCSB to compete and beat anyone on any given night.
Grandt is showing that he isn’t a match-winner under the pipes. He makes his share of saves, but the easy ones that any keeper should be making. Grandt just doesn’t transmit that confidence that a top keeper should. The Gauchos have given up some soft goals and rarely post a shutout. Matter of fact, just 1 shutout in the last 10 games will not get it done if this team aspires to any success come tournament time.
I’m not pointing all the fingers solely on Grandt here. The defense is just as shaky and porous as the keeper. When they play with 3 in the back, they get stretched wide and there are spaces as big as highways straight to goal. When they adjust to 4 in the back, there aren’t as much open spaces to attack; but the back 4 are just not great 1 v 1 defenders. The center backs, Pontius and Schmetz, are great in the air. However, they are slow in recovery when opposing strikers or midfielders combine in the box. Kiffe and Madueno are quality getting forward but neither are natural defenders, but converted midfielders. The sad thing is the back line is getting exposed more than normal with Machael David out with injury. He usually locks down the supply to the other team’s forwards by eliminating the main midfield threat.
I’ll start off with Luis Silva. The guy is simply carrying the load of the entire team. He is exactly what I described in the top college players article earlier this year and more. To date, he has 15 goals and 8 assists. Incredible numbers for a midfielder! Now to the more important intricacies of his game. He had a Messi’esque type performance. Silva put on a show for the few that turned out Saturday night. He scored 2 goals, assisted on the other 2, tackled, ran at the defense, and put on a magical display like Ronaldinho at his prime in flicking the ball over a defenders head, a “sombrerito,” if you will. In any other country worldwide, Silva’s show would have got him a standing ovation from both team’s fans. He even took a beating on many cheap shots and kept his composure and just played.
Next we have Fifi Baiden (a mini Machael David) holding down the fort. He does the job well, tackling and touching to the easiest option. Nick Ryan has taken over the other midfield role in David’s absence. He is not your patented holding mid but tries to assist Fifi in that task and also supports the attack. Dom Sarle drops into the midfield and also is quite impressive. He has awareness that most American players in midfield or attacking positions lack. Sarle links up up well with Garza and Silva to form an attacking trio that will cause any team problems.
Up top there’s Garza who is a menace. His explosive pace and ability in 1 v 1 situations going to goal on the left opens things up for UCSB’s attack. Garza is definately an MLS prospect and will make that jump sooner than later. Opoku’s game has regressed. He just doesn’t ooze the class or confidence once seen in him. He can hold the ball well far from goal and makes the simple play, but is struggling in the box. Decision making there has been horrific all year. Nonni needs to get back from injury to help out because, with that sloppy defending in the back, the Gauchos will likely need to bag 3 to 4 goals to ensure victories.
Cal State Fullerton now has no shot at post season play. The good early start against weak opposition was a smoke screen that didn’t lead to success with this veteran group of players recruited and brought in by Bob Ammann and his staff. The Titans had a massive shake up in the back, and a couple of other moves in midfield and the forward line, that showed a much improved attempt at a possession game. They also showed tremendous fight in coming back from a 3-0 deficit late in the 2nd half to make it a competitive game and almost avenge a 6-0 blowout they received from UCSB a few weeks back.
Trevor Whiddon continues to make some good point blank saves to keep things competitive at times. However, his distribution under any type of pressure is horrific. The ball goes 25 rows out of bounds. On one play his coach yelled at him and gave him a blank stare seeing how Whiddon panicked under no pressure and just launched the ball anywhere. It is a major weakness in his game. But again, most keepers stateside have little to no technical ability since it was not worked on during the critical developmental years. Whiddon and the Titans got blasted 10 times by UCSB in 2 games. Not a good stat.
The Titan’s back line was completely reshuffled for this match – three changes compared to the starting line up employed almost the entire season. In came Nate Fischer, Fermin Villalba, and Jesse Vega and out went Mario Alvarez, Roberto Vernashi, and Jonathan Birt. The new crop has more technical ability and there were more attempts at building out of the back, as opposed to launching it forward and hoping for a 2nd ball to fall to a teammate. By no means was the possession attempt structured, but rather a result of more of the players being better on the ball and trying to play well. Defensively, the new line up did not solve the old problems as they were pounded on the outsides all night and gave up four goals.
The midfield made way for talented freshmen Mark Vasquez, who took Oscar Aguero’s spot (moved to forward). The remaining spots were the same and they showed the same tendencies. Denny does his job well but lacks the tackling ability a true holding mid must have. He doesn’t have the close down speed necessary, and is sometimes slow in his decision making. Ritchie Gonzalez works hard, but just doesn’t have the quality an attacking center mid needs. He doesn’t finish, nor does he leave his forwards in 1 v 1 situations with the keeper. Venegas is Venegas – a quality dribbler and hard worker. But he’ll never learn how to improve his decision-making and other deficiencies without instruction. I don’t think there is any direction coming from above in that regard – it doesn’t sound like it during games at least. He was later moved to right back to attempt to contain Garza and he did a good job matching speed and physicality.
Oscar Aguero was moved up top and didn’t solve the Titan’s problems there either. Very little quality service coming from midfield doesn’t allow him to show his stuff. Jesse Escalante, Nick Posthuma, Gerson Blanco, and Jaimeson Campbell simply don’t have it! They have no quality to make a difference on a consistent basis at the D1 level. It’s not their fault though – they were simply recruited, put on the field, and told to perform. Going to war with broomsticks is basically what the Titans do, year in and year out.
The win placed UCSB close to a Big West tournament berth. As inconsistent as they have been, they still have the most match-winning talent in the conference. That should be enough to get them to the championship game, if not win it to secure an NCAA postseason spot. Worst case scenario they will get in with another win during the regular season because of their strong RPI schedule. Oh, and Luis Silva is consolidating himself into a top 10 MLS draft pick and front runner to big national accolades.
The Titans have turned in another disappointing campaign. The early season excitement from an undefeated start – due to a cupcake schedule – is a distant memory. The excuses are getting old and the results are just not there. It’s a shame to see such mediocrity every year when CSUF has some of the best soccer facilities in the country, is located in the heart of Orange County, and has very loose admission requirements compared to other schools.
Stay tuned for this weeks Big West “Super Clasico” between Cal Poly Slo and UCSB that is sure to draw over 10,000 fans. The game is broadcast live Friday night at 7pm PST on FSC.