Six Schools in Six Days: San Diego State Men's Soccer Preview
Aug. 24, 2005
Over the years, the San Diego State men's soccer program has enjoyed success. From its six NCAA tournament berths to its 1987 appearance in the NCAA Championship match, the 2005 campaign marks another significant achievement in Aztec soccer history.
Beginning this season, San Diego State will become the newest member of the Pacific-10 Conference.
SDSU joins the likes of traditional powerhouses California, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA and Washington in the now six-member league.
A new conference means new opponents and new challenges, but Aztec head coach Lev Kirshner and his players are excited about the opportunity to play in one of the nation's premier men's soccer conferences.
'We are very excited about moving into the Pac-10, one of the top conferences in the country,' said Kirshner, who is now in his sixth season at the helm. 'We're ecstatic to be involved with the Pac-10 Conference and honored at the same time that they (Pac-10) can have the foresight of our vision in what we are trying to accomplish here at San Diego State.'
Stepping into a new conference also means starting out with a clean slate. After an injury-riddled 2004, a season that saw the Aztecs finish 4-13-2, SDSU comes into 2005 with a ton of experience and most importantly, are in good health.
Returning for the Aztecs are senior co-captains Matt Couch and Heath Creager. Couch, a defender, is the top returning points leader and goal scorer from last season's squad. A three-year letterman, Couch will be looked upon to lead.
'Matt Couch will be a leader for us and is one of the best players in the country,' Kirshner said. 'We are really looking at him to lock down and be a leader at the defender position.'
Creager, a two-year letterman and two-time Mountain Pacific Sports Federation honorable mention selection, enters the year second among returning point leaders and goal scorers from 2004. In addition, Creager led the team in goals (seven) and points (16) in 2003.
'We are going to look for Heath Creager to be in an attacking role this season,' said Kirshner. 'He is our co-captain and our leading goal scorer from two years ago. He is going to be a cornerstone on our squad.'
Joining Couch and Creager on the captain line is Raul Bautista. The junior is coming off a season in which he was just one of the many who was lost for the year after suffering a preseason injury. Despite not playing in 2004, Bautista enters the campaign having scored four goals and earning MPSF tournament team accolades after guiding the Aztecs to the semifinals back in 2003.
'Bautista will be the heart and soul of this squad in the central midfield. He was desperately missed last year and was one of the reasons why we had the season that we had,' Kirshner said. 'Raul coming back is going to be a huge asset to us as he showed in the spring when he returned and was healthy and capable of playing.'
In addition to the team's three captains, the Aztecs have a solid presence in net in Tally Hall. The junior from Washington has had two seasons to his credit, including a 2004 campaign in which he played every minute in goal. Kirshner is looking for Hall to have a breakout year.
'Tally Hall has been tremendous for us the last two seasons,' Kirshner said. 'He has two years of experience under his belt and should be a cultured and calming force in goal for us. Tally is just another in a long line of great goalkeepers to come out of our Aztec lineage.'
Even with the abundance of experienced players returning, Kirshner, who believes that this is his most talented team he has coached at SDSU, expects his 2005 incoming class to have a large impact on the season.
One of the jewels of this season's recruiting class is transfer Johann Helgason. The sophomore comes to Montezuma Mesa from a Boston College team that advanced to the round of 16 at the 2004 NCAA tournament. He brings an impressive resume, something that excites Kirshner.
'Helgason is a proven player from Boston College, who has also played some games with the under-21 Icelandic national team,' Kirshner said. 'Last year he was their assist leader and finished third on the team in points. He started all 20 games on a team that went to the round of 16. As far as incoming players, Johann tops the list.'
The forward line will be an interesting one for the Aztecs. Besides Creager leading the way, SDSU will rely heavily on its younger players. Freshmen Cameron Brinitzer, Omar Persad, Jamel Wallace and Kevin Werbner will all have an opportunity to play immediately.
Despite the youth, Kirshner fully expects his young players to contribute from the outset.
'We are really expecting one of our younger players to come in and take care of goal scoring and goal creating. We have two players (Persad and Werbner) coming in with under-16 national team experience, as well as Jamel Wallace, the San Diego player of the year.'
Bautista will anchor the midfield and be an integral part of the team's success. Behind Bautista will be a handful of talented players who will vie for playing time.
Returning from last year's squad is junior Andrew DiCicco and sophomore Kraig Chiles. DiCicco finished the regular and spring season on a strong note and was able to score goals from his midfield position, something that encouraged the coaching staff. Chiles, after playing in all 20 games in 2003, is coming off an injury that took away his 2004 campaign.
Those who will also be looked upon to contribute and lead are sophomores Nick Clemens and David Dally and redshirt freshman Nick Collins.
The highly touted Helgason will be counted on to have the kind of year he had at Boston College last season and freshman Dennis Sanchez, an excellent passer, will also be given a look at midfield.
'Midfield will be an absolute battle,' Kirshner stated. 'There is going to be fierce competition for positions.'
The backline is loaded with potential with Couch as the centerpiece and has something it has not had in awhile, and that is depth. When healthy, the sky is the limit, as the unit showed last spring. This season, sophomore Nick Clemens, a tenacious defender, will get a shot at the position after learning the intricacies at a quick rate during spring drills.
'Nick is a workman-like, tenacious defender who always gives us an honest effort and is also a great leader in the back,' said Kirshner.
The team will also welcome Ryan Reott, a junior college transfer who redshirted last year. Reott's contributions are immeasurable as he brings many of the intangibles to the field. When in the lineup, the team played significantly better than when he was not.
Also returning is Eric Santiago, who is the leading candidate to get the final starting spot and Robbie Diaz, who played in 17 games.
Despite having a lineup tentatively set, Kirshner believes the incoming talent will push the veterans and have an impact right away.
Part of the aforementioned depth will feature freshmen Aaron Pinckney, who was in the under-18 U.S. national team pool, Danny Ortiz, Matt McManus and UC Santa Barbara transfer and 2004 NCAA tournament finalist Charles Anderson.
'There is going to be a great deal of competition back there,' Kirshner noted.
In goal will be last year's staple, Tally Hall. As a sophomore, Hall played every minute and will be counted on to log the majority of the minutes this year. Last season, he posted a goals against average of 1.73, while making 88 saves, good for fifth-most in Aztec season history.
Backing up Hall is Ryan Bowie, a redshirt freshman who gained valuable knowledge from Hall and assistant coach Matt Hall. The third goalie in the mix is transfer Luis Trejo out of Cal Poly and De Anza College. He will shore up the goalkeeping situation and provide experience should Kirshner call him into duty.
Ahead for the Aztecs is what Kirshner describes as one of the best schedules in the country. With the addition of the five Pac-10 schools to the schedule, SDSU has a tough, but welcoming task in front of it.
'The strength of schedule is going to be excellent. Every team we are playing is one of the top ones in their respective conferences,' Kirshner said. 'The diversity in the teams we are playing, the non-region opponents, in addition to our regional opponents, is excellent. Once again, we continue to try to put together one of the best schedules in the country.
'The season is going to be a very exciting one, a very challenging one, and we are certainly looking forward to it.'