Ask Northridge men’s soccer coach Terry Davila about the level of soccer played in his team’s conference, and he will bluntly sum it up: “The Big West is a monster. It’s one of the best leagues in the nation.”
With the latest National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll released Tuesday, four teams from conference are ranked in the top 10 of the Far West region. And after going 2-0 and being crowned tournament champion of the Prego Italian Express Invitational this past weekend in Dallas, the Matadors (5-1-0) have won a place of their own in the NSCAA’s national poll.
Davila’s squad defeated former top 25 schools in Tulsa and SMU, and has rattled off five consecutive victories, catapulting Northridge to the No. 24 spot in the nation, and the No. 4 spot in the Far West region.
But CSUN has plenty of company from its own conference. Big West foe UC Santa Barbara is ranked second in the Big West and seventh nationally, followed by Northridge (No. 4 and No. 24), UC Irvine (No. 6 and No. 23) and Fullerton (tied at No. 10 in the Far West, unranked nationally).
The team recognition and player accolades came in a flood last weekend for Northridge, as senior defender Dylan Riley was named Big West Player of the Week as well as Dallas tournament MVP. Going into the Big West Challenge hosted by Fullerton beginning Friday, the Matadors may be considered favorites to win their third consecutive tournament.
But their biggest opponent may very well be themselves. As easy as they sky-rocketed up the polls, the Matadors could just as easily tumble down in them if their focus and drive don’t remain the same.
“That’s a challenge that you have as a coach,” Davila said, referring to trying to keep his team humble. “We haven’t reached our team goals — it’s one-third through the season … we’re not done yet.”
Davila and his players look upon the Big West’s parody with traditionally big-name conferences such as the Pacific 10 as a source of pride. The Pac-10 currently has two teams ranked in the top 25 nationally, compared to three from the Big West.
“Soccer is a different animal,” Davila said. “Every sport has a power conference … Everybody has their place.”
Davila’s team now prepares to do battle with two more out-of-state schools, starting with the University of Denver (2-2-1) and concluding Sunday with Coastal Carolina (3-3-2).
Riley says the team will continue to try and send a message nationally about the level of soccer played in California.
“California teams don’t really get the respect that they deserve when being compared to East Coast teams,” Riley said. “We definitely went (to Dallas) and made a statement.”
One of the many Matadors to make a statement during their last two games has been freshman goalie Michael Abalos. Davila said Brandon Ibarra was held out because of general soreness, and pointed to Abalos’ excellent practice week as a reason for giving him the nod in goal over third-year sophomore Ibarra.
He said it would come down to a game-time decision to determine who starts Friday against the Pioneers. Ibarra started the first four games of the season and has a record of 3-1, with two shutouts, compared to Abalos’ 2-0 mark. And Davila continues to be excited about the competition.
“Not many people have the luxury of having two great goalkeepers,” Davila said. “It’s a very difficult decision every week, very difficult. Probably the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make at Northridge.”
For a head coach in his 11th season, that speaks volumes to the talent both keepers bring to the net. Davila made sure to repeat how difficult the decision to name a starter is going to be, but the way his squad is playing, the true difficulties might be felt by the Matadors’ upcoming opponents.