By now, many of you have undoubtedly seen the movie Moneyball – the story of how Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane was able to help his team compete in the unfair economic climate of Major League Baseball.
What you may not know is that we have our own version of Moneyball going on right here on the UC Davis campus.
The world of Big West soccer is clearly an unfair game. A few teams hold all of the cards, and if the Big West is Major League Baseball, UC Santa Barbara is the Yankees.
In this game, however, the advantage does not come from an enormous payroll – it comes instead from a major recruiting advantage.
The Gauchos recruit players from all over the world. The UCSB team features nine foreign players from six different countries – three from Ghana, two from Germany and one each from Ireland, Peru, Canada and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Gauchos add to those seven more American-born players who hail from outside of California.
By contrast, the Aggies are an overwhelmingly domestic side. UC Davis features just one foreign player – Canadian born Riley Newport whose hometown of North Vancouver lies less than 40 miles away from the U.S.-Canada border. On the domestic front, the Aggies netted their first out-of-state recruit just four years ago when they signed Lance Patterson from Colorado.
With this major advantage, it seems that the Gauchos and Aggies should not even be allowed to share the same field.
Still, UC Davis has been able to keep the teams’ matchups surprisingly competitive. UC Davis posted an even 2-2-2 record against the Gauchos from 2006-08, and though the Aggies have struggled against the Gauchos over the past two seasons, UC Davis has reasons for optimism heading forward.
The Aggies have spread their recruiting base greatly over the last few years. Since adding Patterson in 2007, UC Davis has signed three more players from outside of California. While these three players are all from the West Coast (Arizona, Oregon, and British Columbia), and this may seem like a very small accomplishment, it is important to remember that this is still a building process.
In fact, the Aggies’ struggles over the past two seasons have been part of rebuilding the program as well.
After contending for Big West titles and making NCAA Tournament appearances in 2007 and 2008, the Aggies lost a number of valuable recruits – most notable Quincy Amerikwa who currently plays professionally for Major League Soccer’s Colorado Rapids. While a program like UCSB could easily and rapidly replace high quality players with players of equal skill, the Aggies have to take a different approach.
UC Davis has relied on player development and growth to improve the program. While the recruiting classes of 2008 and 2009 were less than impressive, the last two groups of freshmen have proven their value.
The class of 2014 features creative midfielders Alex Aguiar, Alex Henry, Elliot Hord and Kevin Schulte, along with starting goalkeeper Omar Zeenni. This year’s freshman class has helped the team on both ends of the pitch as defender Brian Ford has become a staple of the starting lineup, and forward Matt Wiesenfarth leads the team in scoring.
“We are the youngest team in the Big West,” said coach Dwayne Shaffer. “The last two years we’ve brought in players that can bring us back to the level we were at from 2006 to 2008.”
With this group of young players, the Aggies could be ready to challenge for the Big West title by the end of this season – assuming they play to their potential.
UC Davis showed what it was capable of when it defeated No. 6 UCLA earlier this season in what will go down as one of the biggest matches in UC Davis soccer history.
Still, the team has a tendency to become complacent at times. Last Wednesday’s lackluster 3-0 home-loss at the hands of Cal State Northridge was a sign that this team might need some more time to mature before it is ready to compete for the top spot in the Big West.
When it comes to Saturday’s matchup with UCSB, however, you can expect the Aggies will show up ready to play.
And if they’re on their game, there’s no way I’m counting them out – regardless of their lack of international flavor.
TREVOR CRAMER can be reached at email@example.com.