Northridge, CA – The Matadors produced their best 90 minutes of soccer this season on Saturday night to take sole possession of 1st place in the Big West standings early in conference play. They thoroughly dominated the Titans, playing some nice possession soccer for many spells en route to a convincing 3-0 victory.
CSUN: 4-1-4-1 or 4-3-3
GK: #30 Michael Abalos
Def: #3 Joe France, #15 Nicholas Hamilton, #13 Luis Gutierrez, #23 Yuval Barak
Mf: #7 Rafael Garcia, #16 Thomas Ramos, #5 Yarden Azulay, #10 Rene Anguiano, #9Brian Behrad
Fw: #8 Edwin Rivas
GK: #24 Trevvor Whiddon
Def: #26 Jonathan Birt, #4 Bobby Reiss, #20 Roberto Vernaschi, #14 Mario Alvarez
Mf: #9 Oscar Aguero, #5 Michael Denny, #12 Kevin Venegas, #11 Richie Gonzalez
Fw: #7 Kevin Posthuma, #32 Jameson Campbell
Cal State Northridge Breakdown:
I’ve seen the Matadors on several occasions this season and each time their game has progressed. The results are showing consistent improvement and that comes hand in hand with their level of play. CSUN is starting to display some good soccer! Spacing is good, ball is on the ground, and the depth of the squad is coming out. Having their anchor in the midfield, Rafa Garcia, back in the lineup doesn’t hurt either.
Goalkeeper Michael Abalos is hitting his stride with a 3 game shutout streak. The guy is as secure as they come when the typical long balls or crosses get floated into the box. He wins it all in the air. Not a bad shot stopper either! Only weakness I’ve seen to date is positioning on opposing team’s set pieces (when it’s a direct threat and shot on goal). Saw him get beat innocently to his post in the UNLV game earlier this season.
The back line has improved tremendously! Franco is Franco! He is as consistent as they come defending his side of the field and pushing forward to give the attack width and 2 v 1 opportunities. Hamilton and Gutierrez pairing were solid on the evening but didn’t have much to deal with – Fullerton’s forward pair aren’t in the elite class of strikers in the conference. Hamilton was simple and connected all his passes. Gutierrez was caught like a fish out of water trying to dribble forward on a pair of occasions, turning the ball over and leading to dangerous counter attacks. Barak also showed more simplicity to his game. Earlier this season there was too much “playmaking” out of him….not his job! He locked down his side of the field on the evening.
The midfield play has been taken to another level with the return of Rafael Garcia. He is the motor and leader of this team! It has shown over the past 2 weeks! No coincidence that upon his return the results have improved. Three consecutive 3-0 victories and lots of good spells of soccer have been all RAFA! The other components of this midfield have played some consistent soccer and have reaped the rewards of playing without their captain. More minutes to go around in early part of season has given this team the needed depth it will need to make a push for the conference championship. Chris Smith, Carlos Benavidez, Alberto Rosas, James Rochlitz have all shared minutes and performed at a good level. Anguiano and Azulay have great technical ability and work rate to make this one of the best midfields in the Big West. No team in the conference has this depth in the midfield!
Up top, there is no consistent scoring threat for the Matadors but a collection of tough, hard-nosed players who can put you under pressure and take people off the dribble. Edwin Rivas is a raging bull up top! A player with the physique of a Wayne Rooney! He is a handful to deal with when he is running at you and good luck bumping him off the ball. Thomas Ramos has also performed at a higher level in the past few weeks on the wings. Brian Behrad looks to have solidified his spot as a starter. Then you have super sub on the night in Christian Gonzalez. He came on and changed the game in a span of 5 minutes. Took his defender on and served up an excellent cross to open the scoring. A few minutes later he did the same but finished it on his own firing a low driven bullet with no angle to the far post. Again, lots of depth in the forward line that share minutes.
Cal State Fullerton Breakdown:
The Titans opened Big West play boasting an impressive 6-1-2 record in the preseason and had cracked numerous national polls for the first time in ages. The honeymoon with the polls will be coming to a rapid end after the 3-0 loss to Northridge. But none of that matters! This will be a critical week for the Titans if they hope to have a positive season. It doesn’t get any easier for Fullerton with games against UC Irvine on Wednesday and UCSB on the weekend.
The Goalkeeper Trevor Whiddon had little to do in the 3 goals conceded by the Titans. He responded well considering CSUN took a staggering 28 shots. The problem isn’t necessarily in goal for the Titans. Whiddon did his part to ensure the scoreline wasn’t more lopsided than it should have been.
The Fullerton back row was a mess! The more offensive formation than earlier this year against Akron has really exposed how fragile Fullerton is in the back. They are all strong physical players but lack an understanding of the game to know when to delay and stand people up and when to be physical and get stuck in. The lack of pace they have is offset by dropping their lines rather deep when they are not in possession. With the ball at their feet they are all technically deficient and don’t do their jobs. They should be connecting through Denny and the rest of the midfield but instead attempt to “playmake” on their own or just launch the long ball over the top hopelessly for the strikers.
The Titan’s midfield is the strength of the team. Their midfield diamond has been impressive on both sides of the ball. Denny plays the holding roll and has improved his fitness levels from previous years. Venegas and Aguero are on the outsides and can both make plays to change a game in the Big West. Ritchie Gonzales is the newest member to this line up and has great work rate on both sides of the balls and some quality about him. Again, Aguero is the best player on this roster! He sees the game and is a threat offensively taking players on, shooting with both feet, and works hard defensively. Venegas would be a great player if he wasn’t so one dimensional. The freedom he has been given to dribble has killed his development. DRIBBLE DRIBBLE DRIBBLE every time he gets the ball. He can take on one, sometimes two, but with any organized defense he gets dispossessed and then frustrated. He then takes out his frustrations hacking away. It earned him a double yellow ejection on the evening and he will miss a critical game vs UCI. CSF lacks the depth so this will be a big blow without him in the line up.
Up top is where the Titans don’t have a consistent threat. They’ve tried a few different combinations and nothing has worked. Posthuma and Campbell have been the two guys starting as of late. They seem to be an ideal mix. Posthuma has more finesse in his game to work off Campbell’s physicality and work rate. Escalante works tirelessly but doesn’t have the quality to get it done either. Again, the Titan’s midfield is the strength. If they can find a consistent offensive threat it could take this team to compete for the Big West title. Without it, they will be in the middle of the pack yet again.
The first twenty minutes of the contest showed just how much parity there is this season in the Big West Conference. Northridge started getting a hold of possession and putting together nice sequences later in the half and were rewarded with two quick strikes in succession. Both of them involved super subs Gonzalez and Benavides. Yarden Azulay finished a beautiful cross from Gonzalez in the 35th minute. Gonzales quickly took matters into his own hands and finished off a brilliant sequence with a diagonal finish to the far post after great work from Smith and Benavides in the 40th minute.
The second half was a carbon copy of the first. An evenly matched contest the first 20 or so minutes until Benavides came on and started to control the tempo of the game. More possession by Northridge and a beautiful offensive play culminated with a one time volley by Rivas in the 80th minute.
Cal State Northridge looks to have found their team at the right time. They sit on top the conference standings and have produced good futbol in 3 straight games. If they can get another result at UC Irvine this Saturday they will have an inside track to making their first postseason appearance since 2005.
The Titans have hit a huge road bump at the wrong time with this 3-0 defeat to open conference play. How they rebound this week against the two conference favorites in UC Irvine and UCSB will show what this team is truly made of. Their back row and forward will have to perform at a completely different level to give them a shot at getting back into the Big West title race.
Up next will be a breakdown of tonight’s UCSB-Akron game on Fox Soccer Channel.