Head coach Terry Davila and the Matador men’s soccer team begin the 2005 season this weekend, looking to improve on last year’s 11-6-2 record and second-place finish in the Big West Conference. CSUN will return eight starters and three key reserves from last season’s team.
CSUN has qualified for the NCAA Tournament three years in row, and are expected to do so again this season.
Northridge enters the 2005 season having gained some national respect. They open the year ranked 22nd in the nation by Soccer America and 30th by College Soccer News.
However, in its three NCAA appearances, CSUN failed to win a single match.
“It’s very important,” said Gianni Facio, the team’s senior captain on making it past the first round. “It’s probably the biggest goal that most of the seniors, especially I, want (to achieve).”
The performance of forward Willie Sims will be crucial to the Matadors success. In two seasons at CSUN, the junior has scored a total of 27 goals and been named Big West co-offensive Player of the Year-twice.
Last week College Soccer News named Sims as a third-team preseason All-American.
“It is special, but not something I should get a big head about,” said Sims regarding the honor. “It is just the preseason, and All-Americans are made at the end of the season.”
Ryan Rossi, who finished last season with five goals and five assists, will fill the other starting forward spot. Alec DeMattos tallied four goals and two assists in 2004 before having his season prematurely ended by a foot injury. Freshman Jeff Konoske is expected to provide depth at the forward spot as well or midfield.
The depth of this year’s Matador squad is most apparent at the midfield position. Despite losing Yossi Raz, arguable the best player in CSUN history, four starters return, led by 2004 First Team All-Big West honoree Daniel Paladini.
Paladini notched three goals and eight assists as a junior. The other returning starters are senior captains Facio, Zach Feldman, and junior Gabriel Montoya.
Feldman and Paladini combined for one of last year’s greatest plays when Feldman dribbled through the entire UCSB defense before passing to Paladini for the game-tying goal in the eventual win over the Gauchos.
Speedster Will Beard and Taylor Canel provide even more depth, while red-shirt freshman Devin Deldo is expected to contribute as well. Canel, a former high school All-American, joins CSUN after playing sparsely for two years at UCLA.
“When you’re number two at UCLA, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad player,” said Davila of Canel. “It means you’re a great player that just has somebody phenomenal ahead of you. Their loss is our gain – definitely.”
The loss of Benjamin Benditson, now playing in the MLS for the L.A. Galaxy, leaves the Matadors with a young defensive unit that has just four players returning.
The group is anchored by junior Derek Hanks, who has started 37 games for CSUN. The only other returning defenders are junior Ronnie Shields and sophomores Sean Franklin and Matt Tracy.
Franklin, a 2004 Second-Team All-Big West honoree, spent time this summer playing with the U.S. U-20 National Team overseas.
“Sean’s shown a humbleness that is very infectious to the players,” Davila said. “It’s meant a great deal to see a guy like him go to the next level.”
The departure of two-year starter Radames Lafaurie leaves a huge hole for the Matadors at the keeper position. Of the four keepers on CSUN’s roster, only junior Ian McClung has logged playing-time in an NCAA game – 27 minutes total in two games last year.
Sophomore Peter Bomar and red-shirt freshman Takeshi Nakanishi also return, but Davila believes true-freshman Kevin Guppy will be the long-term solution in net.
“We have high expectations of him, and he has played at a very high level in the past,’ said Davila of Guppy.
Historically, almost all incoming freshmen have red-shirted under Davila, including Sims, Hanks, and Feldman.
This year, the Matadors will play one of the toughest schedules in the nation. The non-conference schedule includes games against defending national champion Indiana, ranked #1 in most preseason polls, #4 UCLA at Matador Field, and a trip to Berkeley to face Cal, who is ranked 20th in one preseason poll.
The conference schedule includes two games against 2004 Big West champion and national runner-up UCSB. The Gauchos and Matadors have split their matches the past two seasons, developing into one of the strongest rivalries on the West Coast.
According to the players, the team spent most of the off-season working out together in preparation for the challenges ahead.
“This summer, we’d come out and play…a lot,” said Feldman. “The key is to bring the guys together over the summer so we’re all on the same page when we come back to play.”
The season opens this Labor Day Weekend, as CSUN hosts the Second Annual Matador Soccer Invitational. The team will face Oakland University on Saturday at 4 p.m. The Grizzlies are coming off an 11-5-3 season and return their four top scorers from last year.
CSUN will then face Dartmouth College on Monday at 2:30 p.m. The Big Green won the Ivy League title in 2004, finishing 7-3-7 overall. In the 2004 season-opener CSUN defeated Dartmouth 1-0 in New Hampshire.
Dylan Boggs can be reached at email@example.com