2007 Men's Soccer Preview: San Diego State
Aug. 21, 2007
Courtesy: Jamie McConeghy, SDSU Media Relations
Following another successful season in which the San Diego State men's soccer team finished second in the Pac-10 and advanced the NCAA tournament in back-to-back years for the first time since 1988-89, one must ask what can the 2007 Aztecs do for an encore?
When you consider that SDSU has 18 letterwinners and seven starters returning, including four all-conference selections, and a second straight top-20 nationally ranked recruiting class, the Aztecs don't look to be leaving the national spotlight anytime soon.
San Diego State went 9-6-4 last season and 5-2-3 in the Pac-10 to finish second in only its second year in the league. Three of its nine victories came against nationally ranked opponents, including a sweep of the Pac-10 champion California and another win over No. 4 Washington.
The Aztecs nearly defeated eventual national champion UC Santa Barbara in the first round on the road before giving up two goals in the final 25 minutes in a 2-1 loss. It was the second consecutive season San Diego State made the tournament but fell on the road to the Gauchos.
'If before the 2006 season someone offered me a first round loss to the eventual national champion, I would have gladly taken that,' eighth-year head coach Lev Kirshner said. 'What ultimately transpired is that we thought we had a chance to go deep into the tournament and we showed that by leading (UC Santa Barbara) more than an hour into the match. There is a belief on this squad that we are better than a first round and out team. Our goal every year is to be a Pac-10 champion and a national champion.'Below is a position-by-position breakdown of the 2007 San Diego State men's soccer team:
After losing two-time All-American, 2006 M.A.C. Hermann Trophy semifinalist and three-year starter Tally Hall to graduation, one might think that goalkeeping would be a major obstacle for San Diego State to climb in order to reach its third consecutive NCAA tournament.
Kirshner and assistant/goalkeeping coach Matt Hall, however, have a very strong seven-year track record that has seen Aztec goalkeepers garner all-conference accolades in each of the seven seasons.
'Our goalkeeping has never been an issue here,' Kirshner said. 'We have had postseason honors every single year that Matt (Hall) and I have been here. You lose a lot in Tally Hall as a human being and obviously his goalkeeping is something we will sorely miss, but we won't be deficient in goal. We will have very good goalkeeper again, the only concern is experience.'
And a big concern it is considering each of the four goalkeepers - junior Ryan Bowie, junior Jorge Rosales, redshirt freshman Brad Byrns and true freshman Morgan Maestas - has not played a single minute at SDSU. Only Ca?ada junior transfer Rosales has seen college action.
'Ryan (Bowie) has been here and has put in his time,' Kirshner said. 'He will be the one who has to be beaten out, but the competitive level of our goalkeeping is going to create a fierce competition for the starting job.'
With all four starters, three of whom garnered all-conference honors, returning from the No. 1 defense (fewest goals allowed) in the Pac-10, the SDSU defense has to be considered a major strength of the 2007 squad.The Aztec backline gave up seven goals in conference play in 2005 to lead the Pac-10 and the following year yielded nine tallies with two sophomores and two freshmen manning the backfield.
'The great thing about this defense is all four starters return,' Kirshner said. 'We potentially have a backline that will play together for three years.'
Sophomore Nick Cardenas anchors the defense after putting together one of the finest SDSU freshman seasons in recent memory. The 6-5 back was named a second-team NSCAA/adidas all-Far West selection and second-team all-Pac-10 pick in addition to being named the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year. A U.S. U-20 National Team Camp call-up, Cardenas tied for the team lead with six goals en route to earning Top Drawer Soccer all-rookie team honors and College Soccer News all-freshmen accolades.
'What Cardenas supplied us with was a proven ball-winner in the middle of our defense,' Kirshner said. 'What we're now getting from Nick is a more cultured player, one who makes better decisions with the soccer ball and one who reads the game quicker. Those things will make him a more influential player on our team.'
Junior honorable mention all-Pac-10 performers Dennis Sanchez and Danny Ortiz will also carry much of the load in the back. Sanchez, who started all 18 games he appeared in, had three assists, while Ortiz started 18 of 19 matches and contributed one assist.
'Dennis Sanchez has all the characteristics needed to win games,' Kirshner said. 'His drive, his effort and willingness to win at anything he does happens in every environment we put him in.'
'Danny (Ortiz) is one of the best leaders we have in our program and he showed that last year as a sophomore by taking over an extremely young backline,' Kirshner said. 'Danny is a very good soccer player, but when you put his competitive drive and his ability to lead players together, he becomes an integral part of this program.'
Another defender who Kirshner has high hopes for is redshirt sophomore Steve Beitashour. Beitashour started 10 times in 18 games, and saw playing time in both the midfield and backline.
'(Beitashour) is one young man who, the more he plays at a higher level, the better he is going to be,' Kirshner said. 'Athletically, he is capable of playing with any professional in this country. He has pace, he has strength, he has skill and he can play with both feet. Beita's growth is in playing more games to get a stronger tactical sense of the game.'
Kirshner thinks the 2007 midfield corps could be the best of his seven-year tenure. With so many talented players to choose from, including two-time all-Pac-10 performer and senior co-captain Kraig Chiles, Kirshner is faced with a minor problem. How does he find enough playing time for everybody?
'I think this is going to be the strongest and deepest midfield we have ever possessed,' Kirshner said. 'It is going to be extremely difficult to decide on our starters - one, because we are so talented and two, because our players are so much alike. It's going to come down to what kind of form they are in, whether they are healthy and how much pride they take in defending.'
Chiles, who has led the team in scoring each of the past two seasons, returns after being the only Aztec to start all 19 games in 2006.
'Kraig (Chiles) has one of the best soccer minds we have in this program,' Kirshner said. 'His long-range shooting as well as his effective passing abilities are essential in keeping our team in a good rhythm. When Kraig is on the ball and creating plays, we are very difficult to beat.'
Sophomore Evan Toft is another Aztec who will be given more responsibilities in his second season. Toft, a Top Drawer Soccer all-rookie team selection a year ago, had four assists, which tied with two others for most on the team.
'We brought Evan (Toft) (to SDSU) to make our attack that more dangerous and he did that in his freshman year,' Kirshner said. 'We'll look for that on a more consistent basis than he showed last season. He has that in him and I'm sure he will live up to our expectations and take on our challenge. That's just his character.'
With the loss of all-conference player Andrew DiCicco (five goals, four assists) to graduation, Kirshner admits if there is one question mark on the 2007 Aztecs, the forward line could be that.
'This is a spot that is going to be very important to our team,' Kirshner said. 'It is important is that we are attacking, creating chances and scoring goals. Whoever ends up being our leading scorer this year isn't important. There are a number of players within our program who are capable of doing that, but we really need a player to have a breakout season.'
Senior co-captain and three-year starter Freddy McDonald is hoping to be that player, just one season after tallying a career-high three goals, including one in SDSU's 2-1 loss to eventual national champion UC Santa Barbara in the NCAAs.
'Freddy has been a three-year starter here and is the model of what we are looking for in an Aztec soccer player,' Kirshner said. 'He has earned the arm band which is a very high honor within our program. With his intelligence and charisma, it was a natural fit to make him our captain. We expect him to score goals for us and lead the team from that spot.'
Another forward who is expected to make a big jump this season is sophomore Daniel Ortega. Last season, Ortega scored twice and assisted on another, but it was his accuracy that might have been the most impressive. Sixty percent of Ortega's shots were on goal, the highest mark on the squad.
'(Daniel) Ortega is a very-gifted player who has the ability to do just about anything on the offensive side of the ball,' Kirshner said. 'He can strike balls with both feet and his greatest strength comes from his distance with power.'
Senior Matt Lemire had two assists in his first season on The Mesa after transferring from UMass. Kirshner, however, is optimistic that after a year of learning SDSU's style of play, he could be a bigger threat in 2007.
'Matt (Lemire) did a very good job for us last season but really found his form with us in the spring,' Kirshner said. 'I think he was just a bit overwhelmed with the learning curve coming from UMass. He is much more comfortable now.'
With three career goals over two seasons and international experience from playing on the U-20 Jamaican National Team last January, junior Omar Persad could be ready for a breakthrough campaign in 2007.
'We were very excited that Omar was able to represent his national team in the U-20 World Cup,' Kirshner said. 'He improved his attacking qualities and we hope this translates to more goals for us this upcoming season.'
The Aztecs have once against put together one of the toughest schedules on the West Coast, including road contests against 2006 NCAA tournament participants Creighton, UCLA, Washington and California.
'We are excited for what will be another tough schedule,' head coach Lev Kirshner said. 'The strong non-conference portion will get us ready for the challenge of Pac-10 play.'
SDSU will also play host to the second annual The Soccer Post/Aztec Classic in early September. The Aztecs, who won both their games at the inaugural classic a year ago, including a 1-0 overtime victory over NCAA tournament bound Rutgers, will face New Jersey Institute of Technology on Sept. 7, and then Farleigh Dickinson on Sept. 9.
In addition to The Soccer Post/Aztec Classic, San Diego State will participate in the UNLV Tournament in Las Vegas, Nev. The Aztecs will play games in back-to-back days on Sept. 21 versus Missouri State and Sept. 22 against Drake.
Arguably the biggest weekend for San Diego State will be its annual Alumni, Family and Friends Weekend on Oct. 6-7. The Aztecs welcome 2006 NCAA?runner-up UCLA on Oct. 6, before playing in their annual alumni contest the following day (Oct. 7). This year, SDSU men's soccer will celebrate the 20-year anniversary of its 1987 NCAA runner-up squad.