During Tim Vom Steeg’s more than two decades as the UCSB men’s soccer coach, he has seen what he pretty much thought was everything.
From heartbreaks to moments of celebration and so forth.
This year is way different than any other for Vom Steeg, however. The same could be said pretty much for everyone on the planet.
It’s coronavirus times, and it’s made life on the UCSB practice field downright weird.
There are no scrimmages, no working with bodies in the 6- and 18-yard boxes. No, it’s a lot of passing to pass the time before the start of the season — at least what is supposed to be — in early February.
Vom Steeg and his coaches are making a concerted effort to protect their players and the rest of the staff from COVID-19, just as much as they are trying to figure out the best ways to put the ball in the back of the net.
“I think the players in general have been living with the coronavirus since March,” Vom Steeg observed. “Whether they’re back home or stayed on campus, I think everybody at this point is aware of how the virus is spread and the things you have to be careful of.”
The sport of soccer definitely allows for safe social distancing, which the Gauchos are practicing during three training sessions a week.
“Our sport is 125 yards by 75, it’s outside, and the point of our sport is to actually run away from people and not stand next to each other,” Vom Steeg said. “We have to be mindful of water breaks. We’re obviously not in our locker room, which is inside. We’re not using that facility. We’re all outside, and for our players, they just want to be outside playing and kicking a ball and working on the game they’ve grown up playing.”
As much as the team practices social distancing on the field, Vom Steeg finds himself delivering a strong message to his players that has nothing to do with corner kicks and yellow cards.
“What we have to do, and we have to speak a lot to the players about, is not what happens on our practice field, we have to speak to our players a lot about what happens when they leave here,” he said. “That’s only because they have to be mindful of the fact that they are students and they’re in (Isla Vista).
“If there’s a group of guys who are getting together in IV, we have to look around and say that’s a place where we can’t really be around because there’s a chance if somebody has it in that room or at that house, it can spread.”
So far, the players have gotten the message.
The entire group, which includes players, coaches and other staff members, has been tested once a week for the past month. There have been no positive cases of coronavirus on the team.
“What we’ve had to spend a lot of time on and what the guys have really had to work on is to take everything that happens off the field very seriously,” Vom Steeg said. “We’ve been getting tested every week and, knock on wood, we haven’t had a case, and we have 32 people, including staff. It’s a credit to our players.”
As for the season, well under normal circumstances they’d be in the playoffs right now.
But because of the virus, everything has been pushed back to the spring. The Gauchos, who made it to the Elite 8 of the NCAA tournament last year, are loaded with both young talent and a number of players who participated on that postseason team of 2019.
Four of them, center backs Carson Vom Steeg and William Gillingham, along with strikers Rodney Michael and Derek Kryzda, all have the chance to leave before the spring. Vom Steeg, Kryzda and Gillingham are on track to graduate after this quarter, and Michael has pro soccer prospects to consider.
All four are training with the team these days, but the question is, will they be around when the season kicks off Feb. 3?
“We have four seniors who were basically supposed to play this fall,” Tim Vom Steeg said.
“They’re all here, but the question is, will they return? Instead of working hard in the fall to graduate, are they going to stick around and play for us. Really, it’s an all-year commitment.
The conference tournament is scheduled for about April 15 and then the playoffs go into May, so that’s the start of spring quarter.
“So you’re asking players, instead of graduating in the fall, you’re asking those four players in particular to stay all year.”
Vom Steeg didn’t lean one way or another when pressed about whether he thought the four players would return.
“The answer for us, honestly, is what does the season look like?” he said. “If there wasn’t going to be a (36-team) NCAA championship, if there wasn’t going to be playoffs, if it was us just getting together and let’s play some games in spring and then call it a day, then they’re not going to stay. Now that we do know there’s going to be a season and playoffs, now there’s something to play for.”