Future looking bright for Matadors men’s soccer

CSUN men’s soccer junior Jamar Ricketts backflips in celebration after scoring a goal during the 2022 Big West Men’s Soccer Championship quarterfinals against UC Davis on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, in Northridge, Calif.

Justin Parrott, Reporter

The CSUN men’s soccer team significantly exceeded expectations this season, making a deep run to the final four of the 2022 Big West Men’s Soccer Championship tournament. The Matadors accumulated five more wins than they did a year ago, and finished their season with a 4-1 loss to UC Riverside in the semifinals of the Big West tournament.

CSUN (9-6-4, 5-3-1 Big West Conference) played a lot of tough matches this year, with seven of their conference games decided by one goal or less. Despite a hard-fought Big West schedule, the Matadors capitalized in conference play. They won three of their last four games to tie for second in the conference, officially finishing in fourth after tiebreakers. CSUN head coach Terry Davila praised the way his team fought all year.

“I was proud of how resilient we were through the course of this season,” Davila said. “Being tied for second in the Big West is a hell of an accomplishment.”

CSUN faced 104 shots on goal for the season, the most of any Big West team. Goalie Cooper Wenzel, who played every minute for the Matadors, saved 77 shots while allowing 27 balls into the back of the net — finishing second in the Big West in both saves and goals allowed. He earned Big West defensive player of the week twice for his play, and was named to the All-Big West Conference second team.

Defense was a major point of improvement for the Matadors this season, playing solidly on the back line and reducing the amount of goals their opponents scored by nine after allowing 36 in 2021.

“We worked on structure on the defensive side and we didn’t concede too many goals this year,” CSUN forward Jack Rhead said. “Cooper had a great season, and everyone else on the team. This was something that we really improved on this year.”

CSUN forward Jack Rhead scores a goal during the 2022 Big West Men’s Soccer Championship quarterfinals against UC Davis on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, in Northridge, Calif. (Kaitlyn Lavo)

Last year the Matadors were held back, with COVID-19 sidelining players for most of the 2021 season. As players missed time on the field, the team had trouble finding cohesion to win games. CSUN lost five of their nine conference games last season, missing the Big West tournament for the first time since 2014.

Davila’s goal this season was to improve on their stability and unity as a team.

“We wanted to get our spirit and toughness back, and I feel like we did that this year,” Davila said. “Team chemistry was also a big improvement, and can be better for next season. We brought in a lot of new players this year and [that] will help us in the future.”

The Matadors had three seniors this season in defenders Alex Lemus and Dylan Gonzalez, as well as forward Marvin Arias. Gonzalez had a great impact this season, scoring one goal with five assists. The defender was tied for seventh in the conference in the latter category and made the All-Big West Conference honorable mention team. Lemus played in 15 games, recording four shots. Arias played in 18 games, contributing one assist throughout the season.

Davila values the contributions of his senior group.

“These guys have been through a lot with us,” Davila said. “They helped us turn things around, and I’m very lucky they are a part of this team. They were all great kids and did great things here.”

Freshman forward David Diaz sparked onto the scene, accumulating 17 games worth of playing time this year. Diaz scored two goals with three assists and earned the Big West Conference Freshman of the Year award. In conference play he was top 20 in assists, tied with teammate forward Jamar Ricketts.

The CSUN roster was made up of many redshirt juniors and sophomores who contributed heavily this season. Ricketts threatened consistently, scoring five goals and picking up three assists to earn a spot on the All-Big West Conference first team.

Ricketts scored four game-winning goals, putting him second in the conference. Rhead spoke highly of the season his teammate had.

“Jamar is a great individual. You only have to watch him once and you know how fast he is,” Rhead said. “He creates chances, and many times he’s beaten his man down the line. He’s been a big part of our success this year.”

Forward Levin Gerhardt was a valuable offensive contributor, scoring two goals and earning an assist while making the All-Big West Conference second team. Midfielder AJ Johnson was awarded All-Big West Conference first team, with seven shots and one assist on the season.

Rhead scored three goals this season. He was ninth in shots in Big West play, launching 16 on goal. Rhead put himself in several positions to create scoring chances.

Playing forward this season, he had the responsibility on his shoulders to score goals when opportunities came. Named offensive player of the week in the Big West early in the season, Rhead continued to take it one day at a time.

“It’s hard being consistent at that position with that responsibility, but I focus game by game as they come,” Rhead said. “I’ve been working on my positioning and running, trying to be in the right place at the right time. I was hitting the crossbar or the post, so I was creating chances for the team this year.”

The Matadors look to improve on the offensive end to create more scoring chances next year, specifically when it comes to getting the midfielders more involved.

“Getting Kanata [Furutani], Oscar [Cardenas] and others involved, we know they can make plays,” Rhead said. “They do it every day in practice and they show what they can do. If we give them the ball in space, the more chances they create.”

Many freshmen were unable to play much this season because of the depth of the Matadors’ roster. Heading into next season, Davila is excited about the development of his first-years with the talent they bring.

“Guys like JT Danks, Jorge Solorzano and Merrick Cook, we are excited about those guys’ development,” Davila said. “They are really exciting players and excited about bringing them into the fold. The best is yet to come, and I can’t wait [to see] what next season has in store for us.”