Six Teams in Six Days: San Diego State's Men's Soccer Preview
Aug. 22, 2006
How do you rebound from a disappointing, injury-riddled 2004 season where you finished with a 4-13-2 overall record? You join one of the top conferences in the nation, bring in a nationally rated recruiting class, have your best season in 14 years and earn a trip to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 16 seasons.
Coming off the program's most successful season since 1991 and its first trip to the NCAA tournament since 1989, the San Diego State men's soccer team is back in the national spotlight and doesn't seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.
The Aztecs return seven starters, including senior All-American goalkeeper Tally Hall, from the 2005 squad which finished 9-4-6 overall and a respectable 2-3-5 in the Pac-10 Conference.
Welcome in the 17th-ranked recruiting class in the nation and you can see why seventh-year head coach Lev Kirshner is so excited.
'This whole team is filled with talent,' Kirshner said. 'For us to be successful, however, (the younger players) are going to have to learn to play soccer at the college level right away. We are very excited about the upcoming season, our second in the Pac-10, and we'll see what we can achieve.
'That being said, our expectations every year are to go to the NCAA tournament and compete for a Pac-10 title,' Kirshner added. 'That's what we want to accomplish.'
Below is a position-by-position breakdown of the 2006 San Diego State soccer team.
The forward line is a bit of a question for SDSU after losing 2005 all-Pac-10 honorable mention selection Heath Creager to graduation. Creager tied for the team lead with 14 points (six goals, two assists) a season ago.
Kirshner will look upon senior tri-captain Andrew DiCicco and junior Freddy McDonald to pick up where Creager left off.
'We have a very talented group of young players mixed in with some good experienced players,' Kirshner said. 'Freddy McDonald is fighting for a starting job right now as a junior and Andrew DiCicco, if healthy, will be a starter. We're trying to slowly get (DiCicco's) fitness levels back. Obviously if we have a junior and a senior up top, then there is experience.'
DiCicco is making the jump to forward after playing his first three seasons as a midfielder. DiCicco has started 27 of the 56 games he has played in and has five points on one goal and three assists.
McDonald battled injuries in 2005 and only appeared in seven games with one start, a year after starting all 18 games his freshman season. In his first campaign, he tallied one goal and 15 shot attempts as a defender, and was named honorable mention All-American by the Top Drawer website.
'We have many others fighting (DiCicco and McDonald) for a starting job as well,' Kirshner said. 'Omar (Persad) and (Kevin)?Werbner are two guys who coud see significant playing time.'
Persad and Werbner, both sophomores, each registered one goal and two assists for four points in 2005.
Freshman Daniel Ortega brings a list of honors and accolades to SDSU after a great career at nearby Eastlake High School, where he was named to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) All-America team in 2004 and 2005. Ortega won the adidas Golden Boot as the leading scorer at the 2004 ODP national championships and was a U.S. Youth National Team pool player from 2002-05.
'Danny is a gifted striker whose commitment and abilities immediately strengthen our attack,' Kirshner said.
Junior Matt Lemire, a transfer from UMass, should also contribute to the forward corps after tallying eight goals and five assists over two seasons for the Minutemen.
The midfielders should be a strength once again for the Aztecs in the 2006 season.
'We have a lot of talent (at the midfield position),' Kirshner said. 'There is a lot of experience as well, now we just need to figure out who works the best with each other. The competition will be fierce.'
Senior tri-captain Raul Bautista and junior Kraig Chiles should lead the way.
Bautista was third on team in scoring a season ago with 10 points (four goals, two assists), but Kirshner plans to use him on the defensive side of the ball in 2006.
'Raul is a significant contributor in our midfield as we look to put him in more of a defensive role this season,' Kirshner said. 'We just feel that his power, strength and leadership are so critical to our success that we want to give him more of a central role. We want him to have a bigger impact on the game and on our team, and I think putting him in the middle will do that.'
Chiles led the team with seven goals in 2005 en route to being named second-team all-Pac-10.
'Kraig is a lethal scoring threat in the midfield,' Kirshner said. 'He's very good at finding ways to get chances and he has one of the most dangerous shots in the program. He's got the background and experience, and we expect great things out of him this year.'
Freshman high school All-American Evan Toft comes to SDSU as one of the most highly-touted recruits in recent years. Toft was a member of the U.S. U-18 national team as well as a four-year Colorado and two-year Region IV ODP athlete. He was a three-year all-state player for Grandview High School as well as a 5A all-city and all-conference performer.
'Evan was one of the most gifted technicians in the country and that is backed up by his U-18 national team camp call-ups,' said Kirshner. 'After last season's need for goals, we can't be happier to have Evan join our attack.'
Others who will compete for playing time in the midfield include junior David Dally (one goal, one assist in career) and freshman Kyle Crain.
Senior Ryan Reott will lead a young defense that, although possesses great talent, lacks experience.
'(The defense) is where we probably have our greatest concern,' Kirshner said. 'We're young there, so experience is definitely an issue. We hoped to get Ryan Reott into more of an attacking role, but because of the lack of experience, we'll have to keep him in the back. There is a great deal of talent back there, no doubt.'
Reott, a transfer from Irvine Valley College, started 15 of the 18 games he appeared in 2005, his only season at San Diego State. He was credited with two assists and eight shot attempts.
Freshmen Santo Pernicano and Nick Cardenas could see significant playing time for the Aztecs in 2005.
Pernicano, a four-year varsity player at El Capitan High School and member of the San Diego Surf soccer club, received all-league and all-CIF honors and was the team captain his final two seasons. He played for the Cal-South ODP team for four years and was a member of the Region IV ODP squad three years.
'Santo's many years with national and regional team programs is evident in his ability to read a game and lead his side,' Kirshner said.
Cardenas, a two-year all-state and three-time all-conference selection at Horizon High in Thornton, Colo., was the second-leading scorer in the state as a high school senior last fall with 27 goals. He was selected to the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post all-Colorado team, and was a teammate with Toft on the Colorado Rush.
'Anytime you can find a mobile and technical center back that is 6-5 and 190 pounds you hope he can fit in sooner rather than later,' Kirshner said. 'Throw in the fact he scored the second most goals in his state's high school season; it is safe to say we are happy to have Nick.'
Seniors Nick Clemens and Robbie Diaz, and sophomores Dennis Sanchez and Jamel Wallace will also compete for a spot on the back line.
Clemens is a fourth-year player and a starter of 53 games, while Diaz has six starts to his credit.
Sanchez, who was named to the Top Soccer Drawer National All-Rookie Team in 2005 after scoring one goal and two assists, will make the transition to defense in his second season, while Wallace started 13 times as a defender in his first campaign.
'Like I said before, experience will definitely be the issue in the back,' Kirshner said. 'The good news is that we have an All-American behind them. If they make mistakes, we know (goalkeeper) Tally (Hall) has the ability to bail them out. As the season grows, I am quite confident that our back four will be formidable and will resemble the type of talent we had last year.'
As has been the case for a long time with San Diego State men's soccer, goalkeeping will be the strength of the team.
'Arguable, I think we have the best collection of goalkeepers in the country,' Kirshner said. 'Our four goalkeepers will push each other to become the best they can be. (Goalkeeping) has been the greatest strength in our program and it will continue to be this year.'
Leading the goalkeeping unit is senior tri-captain Tally Hall. Hall led the nation with an 88.9 shots-on-goal save percentage and was second in the country with a 0.49 goals against average, both school records. Hall also had 12 shutouts, most in SDSU history, and became the first All-American in program history since 1989 (Marcelo Balboa).
Hall, a Pac-10 All-Academic first-team member, earned first-team All-America honors by College Soccer News, third-team accolades by NSCAA and was chosen as an honorable mention selection by Soccer Times. He also received first-team all-Far West Region and all-Pac-10 honors.
'Tally is a tremendous individual, not just as a soccer player, but as a person as well,' Kirshner said. 'His leadership qualities are his greatest strength and attribute. He has great charisma. Couple that with a great work ethic, there's no doubt why everyone who knows Tally respects him.'
The other goalkeepers on the team are senior Luis Trejo, sophomore Ryan Bowie and freshman Brad Byrns.
'Luis Trejo has collegiate experience (Cal Poly and De Anza College) and (Brad) Byrns was all-everything in northern California this year and is a tremendous talent,' Kirshner said. 'Ryan Bowie is battling a shoulder injury, but he is a fantastic shot-stopper and once healthy, will push our core of goalkeepers.'
Trejo logged just under nine minutes last season but did not make a save, while Byrns is a three-year Cal-North ODP selection and was also on the Super Y-League regional squad.Schedule
The Aztecs once again have one of the toughest schedules on the West Coast, including road contests against 2005 NCAA tournament participants UC Santa Barbara, California and UCLA.
'I'm very happy with our schedule this year,' Kirshner said. 'We have another great non-conference schedule and being in the Pac-10 makes our schedule inherently tough every year.'
Some other highlights this season include the inaugural Soccer Post/Aztec Classic (Aug. 25 and 27), which features Kirshner's alma mater Rutgers, and a trip to UC Santa Barbara on Sept. 2 in a rematch of last year's NCAA first round game. In that game, the Gauchos came out on top by a score of 2-0 in front of 3,453 fans.
'We've got the bull's-eye on our back this season after surprising some people last year,' Kirshner said. '(Surprising) people won't happen anymore, especially with the preseason rankings and our recruiting class. We'll be ready for the challenge.'
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