A year removed from its finest season in school history, which included a Big West Conference championship and a trip to the sweet 16 of the NCAA College Cup Tournament, the CSUN Matador men’s soccer team will try to build on last year’s success.
“We had long days and double days,” midfielder/defender Sean Franklin said. “Everyone worked hard, everyone showed that they were willing to be here and I think we’re ready to play this season.”
In 2005, CSUN went 15-4-3 and won its second conference title, earning a No.15 seeding in the playoffs and with it a first round bye as well as its first home playoff game. The Matadors then defeated conference rival UC Santa Barbara Gauchos, in a wild 3-2 contest in front of a raucous sellout crowd at Matador Soccer Field.
The Matadors then battled the second-seeded and eventual NCAA College Cup runner-up New Mexico Lobos to a scoreless standstill in regulation before New Mexico broke through in overtime 1-0. Now the Matadors, ranked 23rd in the pre-season College Soccer News poll and its recruiting class ranked as the 37th best in the nation, look to advance even further in 2006.
“It’s an honor to be Big West champions,” head coach Terry Davila said. “We earned it, we worked really hard for it, but our main goal is to improve upon last year and keep the tradition going.”
CSUN looks to be the strongest in two areas: defense and goalkeeping. The defense will be led by Franklin and Matt Tracy and midfield will be patrolled by Taylor Canel and Adrian Lopez, a freshman out of Sylmar High who was named one of the top freshmen by College Soccer News. Sophomore Robert Pate and two other freshmen, Issac Kironde out of Reseda and Dylan Riley out of Thousand Oaks, are also expected to contribute to the Matadors.
Davila remains confident with Riley, Kironde and Pate adding depth to his backline.
Perhaps the biggest advantage to the Matadors in 2006 lies at goalkeeper. Kevin Guppy will once again be in front of the net, looking to pose trouble for opposing frontlines. Guppy was nothing short of magnificent in 2005, as he allowed an average of 0.89 goals per game and set a school record for shutouts with nine, including eight on his own and sharing with fellow sophomore Takashi Nakanishi in three others. Guppy’s effort landed him on the College Soccer News All-Freshmen third team, All-Big West conference and goalkeeper of the year honors and an invite for a tryout with the U.S. Under-20 team. Still, Guppy is focused on improving his game even more and helping the Matadors achieve bigger and better things this year.
“Most freshmen, if they have a good first year, they kind of come back and think they have everything under control,” Guppy said. “I think it’s important to come back and work harder because there is always room for improvement.”
CSUN’s only concern figures to be its frontline. The Matadors graduated their two leading scorers, Willie Sims and Daniel Paladini, both of whom were drafted by Major League Soccer. Despite their departures, Davila feels that they have enough to compensate for their loss.
“Anytime you lose a (Alec) DeMattos and a Sims, there are concerns,” Davila said. “But we can fill the roles with Lopez, (Michael) Clegg, Sunghyun Kim, Moses Gomez and Ryan Rossi. those are very, very, very talented players.”
Another player that could help the Matadors on offense is sophomore midfielder Brian Siu. Siu worked his way into the Matador rotation late in the season and contributed greatly down the stretch. Siu delivered perhaps the biggest moment in the program’s history and the biggest of his young career, as his goal in the 39th minute of the Matadors’ playoff match against the Gauchos put CSUN ahead for good.
The Matadors’ schedule looks to be tough. In addition to its season-opening match against UCLA, the Matadors will have home games against the two top teams out of the West Coast Conference, 17th ranked San Francisco and 18th ranked Santa Clara. The Matadors also traveled to West Virginia for a matchup with a tough Mountaineer squad this past weekend. The Matadors will also head back to New Mexico for a tournament. The Matadors face Oakland on the tournament’s first day, but the highlight will be a rematch of last year’s sweet 16 playoff nail-biter with the Lobos.
“They’re going to test our mental toughness,” Davila said of the Matadors’ opponents. “They’re going to test whether or not we believe in our plans and believe in one another because those teams don’t go away. All those teams don’t give away games, we have to take it from them.”
The Big West Conference will be just as tough, as the Matadors, in addition to battling with the Gauchos, will also have to deal with the UC Irvine Anteaters. The Anteaters were a win away from stealing the Big West Conference title last year and this year return eight starters, including its two leading scorers, including Brad Evans, a pre-season All-American and Anthony Hamilton, an All-Big West First team member. The Matadors are looking forward to the challenge of competing in an improved Big West Conference.
“We expect big things out of our conference,” Davila said. “The goal for our conference is to get three teams out of it, not just two.”
Despite its success last year, the Matadors will once again play the role of underdog, as the Gauchos for the fifth consecutive year are the pre-season favorites to win the Big West Title. The Gauchos return seven starters from last year’s team, including pre-season All-American defender Andy Iro and 2005 Big West Freshman of the Year Eric Avila. UCSB also brings in a recruiting class that was ranked as the 22nd best in the country. Yet all this will serve as motivation for the Matadors in its quest for its third Big West Conference title in four years.”
“We’re very excited,” Canel said about the upcoming season. “We’re a young team now, and we got some seniors that will step up and show the younger guys how we do it.