Matadors kick off conference play

Alonso Tacanga

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The Matadors have had some strong showings this season. They’ve given flashes of what they’re capable of doing when they focus. CSUN has given some proof that it can indeed get to the top of the Big West Conference.

Time to officially start the climb.

Northridge (x-x-x) will use its non-conference games as experience and start the real competition, its conference schedule, Sunday when the up and coming UC Riverside Highlanders come to town. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m.

The Matadors started 2008 off on the wrong foot – or the wrong knees – by losing their first game of the season and also two of their best players in midfielder Rafael Garcia and forward Devin Deld’oacute;. Both suffered season-ending torn ACL’s during CSUN’s 1-0 loss to Georgetown at home and left a big hole in the team’s plans. Head Coach Terry Davila and the players, however, filled part of the gap with new talents.

Forwards Cameron Sims and Moy Gomez have been some of the best performers for the Matadors and are No. 1 and two in the scoring leaders’ box for Northridge respectively. Their goals helped the team score small upsets such as beating UNLV (2-0), Sacramento State (2-1) and tying UCLA (2-2) on the road.

But now come the most important games of the season for the Matadors, the ones that they have to win in order to achieve their ultimate goal of winning the Big West and going to the NCAA tournament. Seven teams are at 0-0-0 right now. The Highlanders will visit trying to extend their good play of late and also avenge a 1-0 home loss suffered at the hands of Northridge last season.

UC Riverside began the season by losing its first four games by a difference of at least two goals in every match. However, every team the Highlanders played in that span was nationally-ranked. Three of them still are. No. 10 California was the first, followed by the then-No. 14 Bruins; No. 11 St. Louis took its turn next and No. 5 Creighton finished the monster stretch.

An 0-4-0 at that point was a misconception given the more-than-tough schedule the Highlanders faced. They proved it so in their next two games. UC Riverside went to the UNLV Nike Invitational and posted consecutive victories over Oral Roberts and Gonzaga to bring their record back up to respectability a little. Their following games saw them drop a tight 2-1 decision to IUPUI and tie 1-1 against Western Illinois.

Midfielders Robert Cate and Cesar Diaz lead UCR in scoring with three and two goals for the season respectively. The Matadors have Gomez in first with four scores and then Sims with two, the same amount as midfielder Sunghyun Kim and forward Camilo Rojas, author of the game-winner against Sacramento State Sept. 17.

CSUN goes into the game as a favorite to become one of at least three Big West teams to start the conference season 1-0. The Matadors, however, know what the role of a favorite can lead to. They’ve surprised a few of those. Come Sunday, they want no upsets.