Expectations are high for the men’s soccer team this season as it looks to make the playoffs for the first time in three years behind five selections to the All-Big West first and second teams.
The Matadors went 8-8-3 last season and narrowly missed the playoffs, but saw a big improvement from the 2010 season when they finished 3-14-2.
“Two years ago was a bad year,” said head coach Terry Davila. “We improved last year and have high expectations for this year. We’re not looking too far ahead though. (We’re) just going to focus on improving every game.”
The team started the season at the Cal State Fullerton Tournament with a 4-0 win over Portland last Friday. Next up for the Matadors is an East coast run starting in Georgetown Aug. 31 and ending in Loyola, Maryland on Sept 2.
The Big West coaches poll ranked the Matadors third in the conference behind UC Santa Barbara, which is ranked No. 11 in the nation, and UC Irvine, which is ranked No. 13. The Matadors feel their experience will prove vital throughout the season.
“This season I feel like we have a really good chance,” said senior midfielder Yarden Azulay. “We have a lot of seniors and a lot of experience.”
Six seniors are returning for the 2012 season including preseason All-Big West first-team goalkeeper Michael Abalos. Abalos’ 14 career shutouts is third in Matador history. Joining Abalos on the Big West first team is sophomore forward Edwin Rivas who scored five goals last season.
Three other Matadors made the All-Big West second team including midfielders Azulay, Chris Smith and Defenseman Yuval Barak.
“I didn’t even know until coach told me at practice the next day,” Smith said of being named to the preseason all-conference second team.
Azulay had a more modest view toward the preseason honor.
“I don’t like it because we haven’t accomplished anything yet,” he said.
Although a lot of starters are returning, midfielder Rafael Garcia, who made the All-Big West Conference first team after last season, graduated and is now playing for the Los Angeles Galaxy in the MLS.
“Rafael will be missed, he was a very strong player,” Davila said. “But I feel like our midfield is the strongest part of our team. It’s stronger in a different way.”
The team will need to be mentally strong for its east coast run as playing the travel can be difficult for players, Davila said.
“You never know how players are going to react to the time change,” Davila said. “But we’re going to play some good teams in their time zones. It’s always harder going from the west coast to the east coast than the other way around.”
Smith is not worried about the possible jet lag from the travel to the east coast. He is excited about making his season-debut as he is recovering from a broken leg and has circled the east coast trip as a possible return date. He also knows that these pre-conference games against good competition are a great chance to get prepared for the tough tests the team will face in conference.
“We’re going to work on the things we need to work on and be ready by the time conference games start,” Smith said.