Justin Vom Steeg is no longer banging a soccer ball — and his head — against the wall.
The former San Marcos High and UCSB goalkeeper resumed individual workouts with the Los Angeles Galaxy last week to prepare for a summer tournament that Major League Soccer hopes to hold in Florida.
“There are still some details to work out, but everyone wants to get back to playing,” said Vom Steeg, who’s been holed up inside his Santa Monica residence for much of the COVID-19 pandemic. “The players union and the league are negotiating salary cuts and things like that.
“There are just a lot of moving parts.”
The Galaxy was two games into its season when the coronavirus forced the MLS to halt all play on March 12.
“My girlfriend (Isabella Teague) and I had to stay inside a lot, trying to stay safe,” said Vom Steeg, who’s in his second season with the Galaxy’s top club. “I was mostly throwing the ball against the wall, going to a nearby park to train by myself … going on walks like everyone else.”
He did return home for a few days and worked out at UCSB where his father, Tim Vom Steeg, has been the head men’s soccer coach since 1999. Justin was the Gauchos’ starting goalkeeper in 2015, posting six shutouts to earn All-Big West Conference honorable mention and All-Freshman Team honors. He signed a professional contract with Germany’s Fortuna Dusseldorf after that season.
“I actually got to play with my two twin brothers, Jared and Caden, when I was up in Santa Barbara,” he said. “It was a lot of fun. They’re going to be seniors this year at San Marcos, and they’ve gotten really good. They’ve got a lot of potential.”
His other brother, Carson, hopes to return to the Gaucho lineup this fall. Carson Vom Steeg served as the color commentator for the live-stream telecasts of UCSB soccer matches last fall while sitting out the season with a torn knee ligament.
“The injury situation was unfortunate, but he did a really good job on those telecasts,” Justin said. “I’ve been listening to Gerry Fall forever — ever since I could walk — and to hear Gerry and Carson working together was awesome.
“We talk sports 24/7 at our house so I wasn’t surprised that Carson was good at it.”
Justin resumed his individual workouts with the Galaxy on the outside fields at Dignity Health Sports Park on May 18.
“It’s been better, getting to the stadium, even though we’re not even allowed inside the locker room,” he said. “It’s all pretty strange. The goalkeeper coach has to stay six feet apart from me, and he has to wear gloves and a mask. I’m not even allowed to hit the ball to him.
“It’s better than nothing, though.”
The MLS is ramping up for a summer romp in Orlando, Fla. — a no-fans-allowed, televised tournament that would begin in early July at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
The event would divide the league’s 26 teams into four groups, with the top two from each group advancing to an eight-team, knockout round. Group stage games — but not knockout-round games — will be counted in the MLS regular-season standings.
The MLS plans to keep the players quarantined and secluded in the Orlando complex with strict testing protocol.
“I’d love to get back out there playing, but it is tough asking people to go eight-to-10 weeks in quarantine without seeing anyone,” Vom Steeg said. “A lot of players have families and even pregnant spouses, and it’s tough to leave family for that long— especially when you’re across the country.
“My girlfriend isn’t too thrilled about it, although she does understand.”
He turned 23 last month and is the Galaxy’s backup to David Bingham, a 30-year-old Cal graduate. Vom Steeg played 34 matches during two seasons (2017-18) in the United Soccer League for Galaxy II before his promotion to the Galaxy’s top club.
“The pandemic came at an unfortunate time for me,” Vom Steeg said. “I was looking forward to this season and getting an opportunity to compete for a starting spot on the first team. But then there never really is a good time for something like this.
“I could be thinking, ‘Why me?’ But talking to a couple of the older players on the team, they’re really upset about the situation since they only have maybe one or two seasons left.
“I’m also on the younger side so it’s easier to stay in shape and fit. It takes a little bit longer for the older guys.”
Bingham was in goal for Cal during UCSB’s controversial loss at Berkeley during the second round of the 2010 NCAA Tournament. The Gauchos lost in the final second of overtime, 2-1, after playing a man down for 78 minutes. Gaucho All-American Luis Silva had been ejected with a controversial red card for his slide tackle on Cal’s Servando Carrasco — an indignity that included Carrasco’s unpenalized slap to his face.
Carrasco, like Bingham, has been Justin Vom Steeg’s Galaxy teammate for the last two years.
“We do joke about it,” Vom Steeg said. “That was 10 years ago when I was 13, but I was in the stands and I remember it vividly.
“That UCSB team was so good — it was one of the best Gaucho teams ever. I thought it was going to win a national championship, especially with the College Cup being in Santa Barbara that year. It was like the entire season was lined up for that to happen.
“For it to end that way was horrible.”
He does have a former Gaucho teammate on his side. Nick DePuy, who played at UCSB from 2013-16, was signed by the Galaxy this season after playing for the Danish Superliga’s Fremad Amager. He was a first-team All-American in 2015 when he led UCSB with 15 goals.
“Nick has been awesome — it’s been good to have a familiar face around,” Vom Steeg said. “He had a really good preseason and was playing super-well. He started the first couple of games and was really on a roll.”
And then they all ran into the roadblock known as COVID-19.
“I was getting pretty crazy, but this initial training has helped,” Vom Steeg said. “It’s been good to go to the stadium and get at least some kind of normalcy.”