NORTHRIDGE, Calif -
Led by senior goalkeeper Michael Abalos and senior defender Joe Franco, the Cal State Northridge Matadors open up the 2012 season poised to improve on an 8-8-3 record and return to the postseason in a new-look Big West Conference. With the addition of Sacramento State as a soccer-only member this season, the conference has been divided into North-South divisions of four teams apiece. Along with Cal State Northridge, UC Irvine, UC Riverside and Cal State Fullerton will duel for one of two Big West Tournament berths out of the South Division. Sacramento State, Cal Poly, UC Davis and UC Santa Barbara will play in the North Division. At the end of the season, the top two teams from each division will compete for the conference's automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.
Before beginning conference play in late September, the Matadors have put together a formidable non-conference schedule to test the team early on. Northridge will play its first five matches away from Matador Soccer Field, including a pair to open the season at the Cal State Fullerton Invitational. The Matadors' home opener is set for September 14 when the team opens a stretch playing five of six games in the San Fernando Valley.
"Playing on the road early in the season is a good way to get the players ready for the conference schedule," said head coach Terry Davila. "There is nothing outside of maybe Akron or Creighton that prepares you for a road environment like we will see throughout the Big West season."
Northridge brings in 10 new players in 2012 and only gets more experienced over last year's squad. The Matadors lost four seniors to graduation last year, including a defender and midfielder, but have brought in the pieces needed to improve the skill of the team. In all, Northridge sees the return of its top seven scorers from a year ago as well as a goalkeeper in Abalos that continues to add to an already impressive career resume.
Coach Davila adds four transfer players to the roster this season, including two local products. Mynor Giron (Van Nuys, Calif.) and Beto Velasquez (Panorama City, Calif.) return home to play for the Matadors while Steven Belecazar (Murrieta, Calif.) and Sagi Lev-Ari also bring talent to the squad. Giron most recently played for Arizona Western College and Velasquez competed for Virginia Tech. Belecazar played soccer at Cal State East Bay and Lev-Ari joins the program after playing for Monroe College.
Other newcomers looking to make their mark on the program include Kevin Marquez (GK - Santa Ana, Calif.), Shane Steffes (D/MF - Lancaster, Calif.), Michael Coles (D - Thousand Oaks, Calif.), Pol Schonhofer Bartra (D - Barcelona Catalunya, Spain), Patrick Hickman (D - Bountiful, Utah), and Nicolas Camacho (MF - Los Angeles, Calif.).
A Look Back at the 2011 Season
Overall, the Matadors had a lot of success on the field in 2011, finishing with an 8-8-3 record after going 3-14-2 in 2010. In addition, Northridge earned a mark of 4-4-2 in Big West Conference play, good for a fifth place finish and just one point from making the playoffs. Along the road, the Matadors were faced with the challenge of having no less than six players start matches who had not played for the program in 2010, let alone playing in the second-toughest conference (by RPI standards) in the country.
Northridge opened its season on Aug. 26 with a 2-0 victory over Canisius in a non-conference match, giving head coach Terry Davila 100 victories as a member of the Big West. A week later, the Matadors hosted the 2011 Cal State Northridge Labor Day Classic, welcoming Cal State Fullerton, UNLV and defending national champion Akron to the Valley. Against the Zips, the Matadors fought back from being a goal and a man down to force overtime before falling in double overtime. In its next match, Northridge easily dispensed of Missouri State 3-0 in a neutral-site meeting in New Mexico.
At then-No. 22 CSU Bakersfield, the Matadors found themselves down by a score of 2-0 before two goals tied the match and forced extra time. Thomas Ramos led the attack with a goal and an assist as Northridge earned a draw against the Roadrunners. The best stretch of the season came at the end of the non-conference schedule as the Matadors beat Seattle University 3-0 at home. From there, they defeated UC Davis on the road in the conference opener and then-No. 19 Cal State Fullerton in the home opener, both also by 3-0 margins. The win over UC Davis was the first since 2005 and the Matadors also scored a goal on the Aggies for the first time since 2008.
Arguably the biggest and most satisfying win of the season came at then-No. 7 UCLA on Oct. 22. Freshman Christian Gonzalez Diaz scored in the first half for the Matadors to give them a 1-0 lead, but two Bruin goals before halftime put Northridge in an unfavorable position on the road. Then, with under 10 minutes to play in the match, sophomore Brian Behrad volleyed home the equalizer from inside the box to give CSUN new life. The Matadors completed the comeback after Edwin Rivas went one-on-one with a defender in the box and slotted a left-footed shot into the right side of the goal. The win was the first for Northridge at Drake Stadium ever. The Matadors also saw a 0-0 result against then-No. 9 UC Irvine and finished out the season with a 2-1 win at Cal State Fullerton.
A Closer Look at Portland
The Matadors open the season with a neutral-site match against the Portland University Pilots on Friday, August 24 at 4:30 p.m. The match is the opener of the 2012 Cal State Fullerton Tournament and is the first of two that Northridge will play in Orange County this weekend. The Pilots are coming off of a record of 11-7-2 in 2011 and a third-place finish in the West Coast Conference.
Northridge and Portland have not faced each other in men's soccer since 1990 when the Matadors were still competing at the Division II level. The Pilots took a 1-0 win in overtime in Portland in the only previous match between these sides.
Midfielder Steven Evans brings the most production back offensively for the Pilots after scoring six goals and adding five assists for 17 points last season. Goalkeeper Justin Baarts started every match in net in 2011 and recorded 72 saves and a 1.30 goals against average while earning three shutouts.
A Closer Look at American
The American University Eagles face Cal State Fullerton at the Fullerton Tournament Friday night before taking on the Matadors on Sunday morning. The Eagles are looking to improve on a mark of 7-12-2 although they did post a 5-2 record in the Patriot League last season. American won the regular season title but fell at home to Colgate in the Patriot League Tournament final.
Senior Alassane Kane was the team's leading scorer with five goals and three assists last year. Billy Knutsen brings back the only goalkeeping experience after the graduation of starter Matt Makowski. Knutsen appeared in five matches (three starts) and earned a 2-2 record with eight saves and a 1.13 goals against average.
The Matadors and Eagles have faced each other just once before on the pitch with Northridge taking a 4-3 victory at Matador Soccer Field.
Rewriting the Record Books
One indication of the success goalkeeper Michael Abalos has earned so far in his career can be seen in the Matador record books as the San Juan Capistrano native earned a spot on four different lists with his numbers earned during his first three seasons at Northridge. Abalos now owns eighth place with his 16 career victories, is eighth all-time with his 1.35 career goals against average, and is third all-time with his 14 career shutouts. His seven clean sheets earned in 2011 are also the third-highest number of shutouts earned in a season, tying him with Jeff Blumkin (1988) and Mike Caputo (1986) and their respective single-season performances. His 52 matches in goal place him third on the all-time list.
After a productive summer working with the Guatemala U-19 team in 2011, redshirt freshman Edwin Rivas is showing fans the reason that head coach Terry Davila recruited him to lead the attack. The forward out of Los Angeles scored five goals last year, which put him in a tie for the team lead in that category and in a tie for third on the squad with 10 points. Rivas had arguably his most satisfying performance at No. 7 UCLA on Oct. 22, scoring the game-winning goal in the 87th minute to cap a comeback for the Matadors, who won on the road against the Bruins for the first time in school history.
No Time to Waste
Junior forward Thomas Ramos led the Matadors in scoring in 2011 with 14 points in 19 matches. Ramos scored five goals and recorded four assists to pace the Matadors after a freshman campaign with zero points. Two of Ramos' five goals came in the first ten minutes of the match, including in the fourth minute at UC Davis and the seventh minute at Cal Poly, both Northridge victories. He also scored with under 10 minutes remaining against Seattle (3-0 win) and with one minute left in the first half at No. 22 CSU Bakersfield (2-2 tie). He scored with just over four minutes to go at UC Riverside (10/19) on an assist by Christian Gonzalez Diaz and assisted on Gonzalez Diaz' score at UCLA on Oct. 22.
Junior midfielder Carlos Benavides was a major part of the Northridge offense in 2011 and ended as the team leader in assists with eight. Benavides recorded an assist on the only Northridge goal at New Mexico (9/11) and also earned assists at CSU Bakersfield (9/15) and against Seattle University (9/25). He put on his most impressive display, however, against Cal State Fullerton when he tallied three assists in a 3-0 victory, earning Big West Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors in the process. On the season, Benavides tied for first in the conference in assists and was the leader in assists per game (0.47) and tied for 13th and 15th in the nation in those categories, respectively. With three assists against Cal State Fullerton on Oct. 1, Benavides can also claim the second most assists in a game in the NCAA last season.
Midfielder/defender Chris Smith recorded 11 points in 19 matches in 2011, good for second on the team in scoring. The Palmdale, Calif. native averaged 0.58 points per game and was a force in both the offensive and defensive schemes for the Matadors, also serving as the taker of corner kicks when he was on the pitch. Smith scored Northridge's first goal of the season in the opener against Canisius when he lined up a shot from 30 yards out that curled over the goalkeeper's head and gave CSUN a 1-0 lead. He earned an assist on the only goal in CSUN's 2-1 loss to UNLV and also recorded two helpers in Northridge's 3-0 defeat of Missouri State in the Lobo Invitational in Albuquerque, N.M. He also headed home the Matadors' second goal in the 3-0 victory over Seattle and had an assist on Edwin Rivas' goal against UC Davis on Oct. 15. Smith ended the year ranked tied for sixth in the Big West in assists (7) and assists per game (0.37).
One and One is Three
A number of Matadors put up multiple-point performances in a match last season. Sophomore Thomas Ramos had a goal and an assist in a 2-2 draw at #22 CSU Bakersfield (9/15) and again in a match against Seattle University (9/25). Against #19 Cal State Fullerton on Oct. 1, both Christian Gonzalez Diaz and Carlos Benavides tallied three points, as Gonzalez Diaz scored and had an assist and Benavides recorded three different helpers. Senior captain Rafael Garcia twice converted penalty kicks into goals at UC Davis (9/28) for the only four-point display by a Matador in 2011.
Matadors In The Big West Top-Ten
At the conclusion of the Big West Conference season, a number of Matadors ranked among their peers in the conference statistics, both offensively and defensively. Forwards Thomas Ramos and Edwin Rivas ranked tied for eighth in the league with five goals and Ramos was eighth with 14 points. Midfielder Carlos Benavides tied for first in the league in assists (8) and had the highest assists per game average (0.47), while Ramos also finished 10th with 2.47 shots taken per game. Midfielder Chris Smith came in at sixth for both assists (7) and assists per game (0.37). In net, goalkeeper Michael Abalos finished third with a .758 save percentage and 3.83 saves per game. Abalos had the fourth-best goals against average (1.18) and was also fourth with 69 saves. He ended the year tied for second with seven shutouts and was second in the Big West with 0.39 shutouts per game.
Down, But Not Out
Cal State Northridge was able to rally on more than a few occasions last season to earn points. In the Matadors' match against No. 2 Akron on September 3, Northridge played down a man for 66 minutes due to an accumulation of yellow cards by a defender. In the 25th minute of action, the Zips took advantage of the man advantage and pulled ahead with a 1-0 lead. Not to be put away, the Matadors played a more defensive game, with goalkeeper Michael Abalos recording seven saves between the time of the red card and when freshman Yarden Azulay scored to even the match on a breakaway in the 82nd minute. In all, the Matadors rallied from a goal down to tie the match three times (vs. UNLV, Akron, and UC Santa Barbara), all after the 75th minute. Against No. 22 CSU Bakersfield on Sept. 15, the Matadors rallied from being down two goals on the road to force overtime and earn a draw. On Oct. 22 at No. 7 UCLA, the Matadors trailed 2-1 before goals by Brian Behrad (83') and Edwin Rivas (87') led Northridge to its first victory over the Bruins in Westwood and just the second win over UCLA in school history. While playing with 10 men against UC Santa Barbara on Nov. 1, Azulay scored the tying goal in the 89th minute to send the match into overtime.
Keep Your Heads on a Swivel
In the 2009 conference-opening match in Riverside, CSUN fired 30 shots at the Highlander goalkeeper, 15 of which were on goal. In 2010, the Matadors nearly matched that mark as they blasted 28 shots at the Highlander net, including 10 on goal in their only contest of the season, which took place in Northridge. CSUN matched the 2010 high on Oct. 1, 2011 with a 28-shot performance at home against #19 Cal State Fullerton in a 3-0 win.
Scoring from All Positions
In the 2011 regular season, the Matadors saw 30 goals scored by 11 different players: Christian Gonzalez Diaz (4), Yarden Azulay (4), Edwin Rivas (5), Chris Smith (2), Gustavo Villalobos (1), Taylor Bowlin (1), Thomas Ramos (5), Brian Behrad (4), Luis Gutierrez (1), Rafael Garcia (2), and Alberto Rosas (1). Equally as impressive is that the Matadors had a total of 38 assists on those goals, with Smith (7), Villalobos (2), Ramos (4), Azulay (2), Gonzalez Diaz (2), Rosas (1), Bowlin (1) as the only Matadors to have a goal and a helper this year. Midfielder Rene Anguiano (3), defenders Nicholas Hamilton (2), Joe Franco (3), Yuval Barak (1), Carlos Benavides (8), and Jose Luis Garcia (2) each were credited with an assist. In all, the Matadors tallied 98 points and saw offensive production from all parts of the pitch, working the attack through a variety of positions to break down the opposition. The 98 points were third-most in the Big West in the regular season.
Of the 19 matches on the schedule this year, the Cal State Northridge Matadors will play just eight at Matador Soccer Field, including three non-conference matches in September. That may bode well for the Matadors, as the team had a record of 5-3-1 in road contests last season. Northridge opens up the 2012 season with five straight matches away from home beginning with two at the Cal State Fullerton Tournament against Portland and American. CSUN will then head east for matches at Georgetown and Loyola Maryland before taking on UNLV in Las Vegas on September 7. The Matadors' first home match will take place on Friday, Sept. 14 against Army. Northridge will also travel to face San Diego, Cal Poly, UC Santa Barbara, Cal State Fullerton, UV Irvine and UC Riverside this season.
Quick Out of the Gates
Cal State Northridge is 21-11-2 all-time in season openers but have only won twice in their first match of the season since 2007. Northridge defeated Canisius at Matador Soccer Field 2-0 in 2011. In addition, Cal State Northridge will open the schedule at a neutral site for the first time since the 2002 season when the Matadors competed in the LMU Tournament in Los Angeles. Northridge went on to play in the NCAA Tournament that season. The Matadors are 20-7-4 in conference season openers, and have only been defeated once in a Big West opener. CSUN has not lost a conference opener since 2002, when they were on the wrong side of a 2-1 decision against UC Irvine at home. The Matadors are now 8-1-2 all-time in Big West Conference openers after defeating the UC Davis Aggies 3-0 on Sept. 28. The longest streak for conference opening wins in Matador history is 10 seasons, accomplished from 1978-87 under the direction of head coaches Zvi Friedman, Ric Fonseca and Marwan Ass'ad.
Tickets for all home men's matches are available through the CSUN Associated Students Ticket Office. Adults are $8, while youth 17 and under and seniors 60 and older are $5. There is also a $3 discounted rate ticket for CSUN Faculty/Staff, Military Service Personnel and CSUN Alumni Association Members with their respective identification cards. CSUN students receive free admission to all home games with their CSUN I.D. Groups of 10 or more people may purchase $3 tickets, but tickets must be purchased a minimum of 24 hours in advance. For more information, call the A.S. Ticket Office at 818-677-2488.