The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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Can last season’s momentum carry men’s soccer even further this year?

Aliyah Hinckley
CSUN defender Dylan Gonzalez, 3, and forward David Diaz, 58, celebrate the former’s go-ahead goal in the 73rd minute against the Saint Mary’s College Gaels on Sept. 21, 2022, at the Performance Soccer Field in Northridge, Calif.

After a promising season last year, coach Terry Davila has his Matador team fit for action as they try to exceed expectations. Projected to finish third by the preseason Big West Coach’s poll, the Matadors aim to win their first Big West title since 2016.

Season so far
To start the season, the Matadors have opened up with two draws. Against Ohio State University, the Matadors trailed for much of the game until a Jorge Solorzano free kick leveled it at one a piece. The second game against University of Dayton featured a goal from star forward Jamar Ricketts and senior Bryan Bustamante. Against two solid teams, the Matadors have held up. They have a tough couple of games coming up, but if the start of the season was any indication, then this team is ready to compete.

New roster additions
For a team that was starting to hit their peak at the season’s end, it won’t be easy to replace budding freshman star David Diaz as he moved onto the pros. He signed with Central Valley Fuego FC of the USL1 after winning the Big West Freshman of the Year award at the season’s end. Freshmen Robert Kaemmerer and Zack Harris have already been seeing plenty of action in the Matadors’ first two games, with both players earning starts. Harris, hailing from Oak Park High School, was the 2023 Ventura County Star All-County Boys Soccer Player of the Year in his senior season. Kaemmerer prepped at South Torrance High School and earned first team all-league in his senior campaign.

In addition to the freshman, a few redshirt freshmen are leading the way for the Matadors off the bench. JT Danks, a redshirt freshman from Servite High School, has seen action in both games so far as he fights to carve a role off the Matadors’ bench. Another redshirt freshman, Solorzano, already has netted himself a goal to draw the season opener against Ohio State. He’s also come off the bench in both matches as he attempts to lock down a backup midfielder role.

A few transfers came in over the offseason that are making impacts early. Zion Wagoner, a transfer from Salt Lake Community College, with some previous time at the University of Memphis as well, has played in both matches for the Matadors, coming off the bench and playing in 112 minutes so far. Matthieu Fiadjoe, a transfer from Catawba College, has started in both games for the Matadors and figures to hold down a spot in the defense.

Schedule highlights
The Matadors kicked off their season at the Bert and Iris Wolstein Classic, which saw the Matadors take on host Ohio State, who made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2022, and Dayton, who finished 10-2-5 last year.

After their trip to Columbus, they will take on 2022 WCC Champions and first of four WCC opponents, University of San Diego, in San Diego on Sept. 1 and then take the short journey to UCLA on Sept. 4. Last season, the Bruins made it all the way to the third round of the NCAA tournament, and play in a competitive PAC-12 conference.

The Matadors will make their way around Southern California with matchups at home against University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and Loyola Marymount University, respectively on Sept. 7 and 17; meanwhile, they will travel to Riverside to take on California Baptist University, yet another NCAA tournament team for Davila’s squad.

On Sept. 21, the Matadors travel to Portland to take on the Pilots. University of Portland won an astounding 15 games last year, and will be one of the best teams the Matadors play all season.

Their final non-conference tuneup is against Santa Clara University on Sept. 24.

Davila said of his tough non-conference schedule, “It’s all about boosting that RPI: if we get a high enough RPI and get good results, we could look to make a run for the tournament. That’s always the goal.” And so far, the Matadors are keeping up with the higher-rated opponents.

The Matadors don’t do much traveling during their conference season. The first couple of Big West matchups will be at home versus CSU Fullerton and CSU Bakersfield on Sept. 27 and 30. That’ll be followed by a trip to Cal Poly SLO, where they take on the Mustangs on Oct. 4.

They’ll return home to take on Sacramento State University on Oct. 7, then they’ll trek out to their farthest conference game at UC Davis on Oct. 11.

After Davis, they travel once more down Interstate 5 to Irvine on Oct. 14. They will be rewarded with two home games on Oct. 18 and 21 against UC San Diego and UC Santa Barbara, and an away game on Oct. 28 at UC Riverside to end the season.

That final stretch of four games is easily the hardest for the Matadors, as Riverside, Santa Barbara, and Irvine finished all ahead of the 4th place Matadors, in that order, in last year’s Big West regular season.

It will be interesting to see how the Matadors match up against teams that are very good. If you’re getting into the tournament, you have to be at large, with a high RPI and good team, or you have to be a conference winner. They will be battle tested by the time Fullerton rolls around, but do they have what it takes to get over the hump? Only time will tell.

Last season
Last season, by all means, was a success for the Matadors. They went over .500 for the first time since 2018. They had six all-conference players, including the previously mentioned Diaz, Big West Freshman of the Year. They return three all-conference players in Ricketts, Cooper Wenzel, and Levin Gerhardt.

Ricketts in particular was named to the second team of the All-Far West team, as well as first team All-Big West, and his freshman season saw him on the all-conference freshman team.

Wenzel is the team’s goalkeeper and was fourth in NCAA Division I in minutes played with 1,530. Gerhardt is a solid attacking forward who complements Ricketts well. Both players finished second team All-Big West.

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