Cal State Northridge men’s soccer coach Terry Davila will not come out and say it. He won’t even go as far as predicting a better season than last year’s injury-plagued 8-7-4 record.
“I’ll let our actions speak, not our words,” said Davila, who is entering his eleventh season as coach at CSUN.
But for those in and around the Matadors’ program, the feeling in the air is that this year’s squad is poised to explode like dynamite in the Big West Conference and beyond. Like a lit fuse inching closer and closer to detonating in the face of an opponent, the team is carrying itself with a quiet confidence.
Led by 12 returning seniors and a handful of upper-classmen, the Matadors boast a talented starting 11 — among them their four leading scorers from a year ago.
Senior midfielder Sunghyun Kim earned First Team All-Big West honors last season and was the team’s leader in assists and its second-leading scorer. His ability to make plays and draw defensive attention should open up opportunities for junior forward Camilo Rojas, last season’s leading scorer.
For a team which at times struggled to find the back of the net, the Matadors should be more potent offensively with the return of senior Cameron Sims and junior Moy Gomez. Both players missed significant time with injuries in 2008.
Yet, Davila’s team is not without major question marks.
The graduation of Kevin Guppy – CSUN’s two-time Big West Goalkeeper of the Year — has left the squad without a proven goalkeeper and with huge shoes to fill, to say the least.
Redshirt sophomore Brandon Ibarra and true freshman Michael Abalos are running dead-even in the competition to be named starting goalie, according to Davila.
“They’re getting over their inhibitions of trying to not make a mistake,” the coach said. “They’re going for it and that’s what we like a lot.”
Barring another rash of injuries, the Matadors appear as though they could challenge UC Santa Barbara for the conference title. UCSB has been considered the cream of the crop in the Big West conference over the last few years and even won a national championship in 2006.
But for a Matador team that has hovered around .500 the last couple of seasons, just making it into the Big West’s four-team conference tournament will be challenging enough.
Davila’s team made it to the final game of the regular season last year with an opportunity to not only make that four-team playoff, but to win the regular-season crown. However, a crushing 2-1 loss to UC Irvine at home in the season finale eliminated them from the postseason.
“If you would have told me with all the injuries that we had last year, that on the last game of the year we’re gonna have a chance to win the Big West, I would have taken it,” Davila said.
Despite their less-than-impressive 4-3-3 conference record, the Matadors’ calling-card remained their ability to defend, as they averaged a little over one goal allowed per game. They expect to continue to call on that defense as a strength, with a backline anchored by Second Team All-Big West member, senior Robert Pate. Redshirt senior defender Chad Borak, an All-Conference Honorable Mention, will support Pate near the CSUN box.
Adding to CSUN’s depth will be an influx of talented recruits that Davila calls the team’s “future and present.” Although he says no recruit in particular has stood out, he pointed to the freshmen’s collective experience playing on premier club teams.
“A lot of national team pedigree,” he said. “We’re excited about them.”
Should the need arise to look for players to step up in a starter’s absence, Davila will not hesitate to go to his deep bench.
One player who he sees as ready to have a breakout season is redshirt sophomore forward Daniel Yoon, who played in 13 games last season.
The Matadors’ last Big West title came in 2005 and they have not made the NCAA tournament since, which is why Davila (the 2003 Coach of the Year) is not looking any further than the Aug. 28 home exhibition against UNLV. He’s taking it one game at a time.
“We’re trying to stay focused and humble,” Davila says, “and take each practice very seriously and each game very seriously.
“We divide our season in three parts: preseason, season and championship season. We’re going to make sure we take care of each one without skipping the other.”