Don’t look now, but men’s soccer has found its form again and looks poised for another run deep into the fall.
After reaching the NCAA tournament semifinal and as a result, being ranked No. 4 in the nation in the preseason rankings, men’s soccer got off to a 2-4 start that saw them drop out of the top 25 and raise doubts about a team that had lost key contributors such top scorer Sergi Monso, goalkeeper Jason Trejos and others.
Since a 3-0 loss at Cal State San Bernardino to open California Collegiate Athletic Association play, the Broncos have won six in a row and sit second in the conference. Despite losing key attackers last season, the team has scored two or more goals in seven of the last nine matches.
For coach Adam Reeves, the issues at the beginning of the year were not up front but in defense. The team recorded a clean sheet in its first game against Montana State Billings on Aug. 31, but didn’t record another until a 1-0 victory against Chico State on Sept. 30.
“We were too open, too vulnerable defensively,” Reeves said. “Some of the older guys weren’t living up to what I would consider my expectations of them.”
In this his first year as the full-time coach, Reeves acknowledged that he still is growing as coach and may have done things differently if had to go back.
“I learned a lot from it,” Reeves said. “I wouldn’t consider myself the most experienced coach in regards to being a head coach and planning. Maybe there’s some things I would have done differently in preseason.”
Along with improving at the back, the amount of roster turnover meant that the new players needed time to familiarize themselves with returning players and the coaching staff needed time to figure out how the old and the new could coexist effectively on the field.
“It takes time for them to learn the intricacies of a program,” Reeves said. “For the staff to learn where they fit in best and who fits best with each other.”
Despite the turnover, the team is set up to play the same way according to Reeves. The difference this year is instead of relying on most of the goals and assists coming from one player, more balance has been needed.
Monso, last season’s top scorer, bagged 21 goals and set 12 others. Junior midfielder Jimmie Villalobos leads the team this year with seven.
Senior goalkeeper Jakob Hansen transferred from fellow CCAA member Cal State Monterey Bay last season but did not play until this year. The integration of new players and their familiarity is especially important in defense between the backline and goal keeper.
Only center back Nadeer Ghantous and right back Angel Cova return as starters in the backline, with juniors Jason Ramos and Ori Kenett slotting in as new starters this season.
“That block is huge,” Hansen said. “If we’re not on the same page that’s when we’re conceding any kind of goals or bad goals.”
With time spent playing together, Hansen has seen the confidence the team has with each other grow, and a resulting improvement in the overall performance.
Junior midfielder Cyro Oliveira was part of last year’s run to the semifinal and this year has been a key contributor early on, notching eight assists and scoring two goals.
According to Oliveira, the level the team set last season was always going to be difficult to match, especially with the amount of newcomers to the team.
“We had very high standards last year and maybe we weren’t able to be at the same level in the beginning, which is normal,” Oliveira said. “When you lose that amount of players it’s hard to just come back and be that good.”
Oliveira did not feel the team was playing poorly early and knew things would improve after enough time.
“For me it was a matter of time,” Oliveira said. “Getting together, knowing each other better and the results started coming.”
After this weekend’s homestand, the team finishes up league play with four consecutive road matches before the CCAA Tournament.
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