Team hopes to return to NCAA Tournament

Ivan Yeo

After a solid, yet disappointing 2006 campaign, the CSUN men’s soccer team looks ahead to what it hopes will be a bounce-back 2007 season.

Coming off a 2005 season that saw the Matadors win their second Big West Conference Title and advance to the sweet 16 of the NCAA College Cup Tournament, the Matadors entered last season with high expectations. Things looked promising in CSUN’s opening game against UCLA at Drake Stadium, as it played the Bruins to a 1-1 draw. The Matadors went 2-2-1 in its last five pre-conference games and were in first place in the conference on October 11 after a 4-1 road win against UC Irvine. However, from that point on, things suddenly went sour for Northridge. First came a scoreless tie three days later against host UC Riverside, followed by a crushing three-match losing streak. CSUN did close out the season with three straight wins, but it wasn’t enough to save the Matadors’ season, as Northridge missed the playoffs for the first time in five years.

CSUN’s shortcomings in 2006 could be traced to the departures of Willie Sims, Daniel Paladini and Alec De Mattos. All three players accounted for 66 percent of the Matadors’ offense in 2005. Northridge did get solid performances from forwards Ryan Rossi and Sunghyun Kim, both of whom scored a team-high six goals last season. Despite Rossi’s departure, head coach Terry Davila believes the Matadors, a year older, have what it takes to make a return trip to the NCAA Tournament.

“We improved our mental toughness,” Davila said. “We’re taking every game seriously.”

Once again, CSUN’s strengths will be at defense and goalkeeping. The Matadors’ backline will feature senior Sean Franklin, who has had himself quite a busy off-season, as he played for the United States’ Under-23 National Team back in February and also for the San Fernando Valley Quakes of the United Soccer League’s Premier Developmental League during the summer. Franklin’s arm, however, is currently in a cast and he is expected to be out for several weeks. Senior Matt Tracy and junior Chad Borak, who played alongside Franklin on the Quakes, will also man the backline.

Junior Kevin Guppy will once again serve as the Matadors’ last line of defense as goalkeeper. Guppy, the 2005 Big West Conference Goalkeeper of the Year, was just as solid last season, starting all 19 games and allowing only 18 goals, good enough for an overall 0.90 goals against average and a 0.57 mark in Big West play that led the conference.

At midfield, CSUN will feature senior Fergie Agwu, junior Devin Deldo and sophomores Adrian Lopez and Dylan Riley. Kim returns to anchor the frontline, but will also be helped by sophomore Michael Clegg and junior Moy Gomez.

The Matadors’ recruiting class also looks impressive, as Davila brings in two freshmen with impeccable credentials from local powerhouse Canoga Park High School. Forward Camilo Rojas scored 63 goals in the last two years and midfielder Rafael Garcia assisted on 19 goals as a senior last year. CSUN also brought in Bo Miller, a 6-1 defender who transferred from Loyola Marymount and is eligible to play this year.

Northridge’s 2007 schedule looks to be as tough as ever, as the Matadors host national powerhouses New Mexico on Sept. 20 and UCLA on Sept. 29. Both contests are at Matador Soccer Field at 4 p.m. CSUN’s biggest non-conference game will take place on Oct. 21 when it travels to College Park Maryland to face the Maryland Terrapins, winners of the NCAA College Cup in 2005.

“There are no surprises when you play those teams,” Davila said. “You know what you’re going to get, and we’re excited to play with those teams.”

As for the Big West Conference, the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos look to be the only team standing between Northridge and its third Big West Conference title in five seasons. But this time, a very interesting twist has been added to the fierce rivalry between the two programs. Last year, the Gauchos captured its fifth conference title, then went on to win its first ever NCAA College Cup with a 2-1 win over UCLA in St. Louis.

“We’re happy for them,” Davila said. “They worked hard for it. They didn’t win it by accident.”

This year, Santa Barbara appears to be as strong as ever, coming in as the favorite team to win the conference, with CSUN’s team being picked to finish right behind them in the coaches’ top 25 preseason poll. The Gauchos return with defender Andy Iro and forwards Eric Avila, Bongomin Otti, Nick Parera and Andrew Proctor. Avila and Iro were named to the College Soccer News’ preseason All-American first team. The Matadors’ first meeting with the defending champion Gauchos will occur on October 10 at Matador Soccer Field at 2 p.m. and the second game will be on October 27 at UC Santa Barbara’s Harder Stadium at 7 p.m. College Sports Television will televise the Oct. 27 game for the third straight year. Despite the increased stature in the rivalry between the Matadors and Gauchos, Davila said he expects nothing to change when the two teams start duking it out in the Big West Conference in 2007.

“It’s going to be the same as always,” Davila said. “They bring out the best in us and we bring out the best in them.”

The Matadors open the 2007 season with a home match with Detroit on Aug. 31 at 4 p.m.

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