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.
Thanks for the posting. I was beginning to have caffeine-withdrawal-like symptoms from a lack of new 3 4 3 postings.
I am very interested in one of your observations here, Brian: “The freedom he has been given to dribble has killed his development. DRIBBLE DRIBBLE DRIBBLE every time he gets the ball.” My sons have both been on various teams where this is permitted constantly. What is it about coaches in this country that think dribbling exhibitions are equivalent to budding soccer genius? Every time I express my concern that this is perhaps not good for my kid’s development, because he and the others are left making pointless movement and in the end are confused and just watch the dribbler until he invariably loses the ball, the coach(es) just give me a look of confusion or impatience, like I am some soccer parent/turnip who should just shut up and let them do their job.
Can you please expand on the developmental aspects of this phenomenon, and how a good coach deals with this? Thank you.
Alberto — Your comment reminds me about something I learned in Trigonometry class . In so many words, a little error now can make be a huge problem further on (not exactly what we learned, but the concept is same).
Which brings me to something Gary and this blog preaches so much about: coaching. Luckily, I don’t see over-dribbling as a widespread issue, but know it happens.
My biggest pet peeve is inept, uniformed, inexperienced, uneducated (from soccer perspective), or win at all cost coaches getting hold of players at the U12 and under level and allowing “little errors” to go unchecked. They one day become magnified at U18 into major technical and tactical blemishes that no amount of tuning or polishing can correct.
Brian Kleiban says
Thanks for the comment and questions about the over dribbling. It is a disease in our youth game. Most coaches allow it at all levels here from what I’ve seen. Nothing wrong with allowing players to express themselves at the young ages and take defenders on. From my many trips to Spain to study the Barca methodology I’ve learned that having awareness and a pass first mentality should always be prioritized…..especially at the younger ages. The talented players are not discouraged or told not to dribble or be creative. They are encouraged to do but always at the right time. When you have space to attack. When you are in a good 1 v 1 situation in the offensive third. THE BEST PLAYERS MAKE THE BEST DECISIONS. These are the things coaches need to instill into their players. Correct them when their decision making is wrong.
Dribbling when you are 1 v 3 is NOT a good decision. No matter how good a dribbler you may be. Kevin Venegas is an excellent dribbler. But had he been corrected as a youth player, he would not have blinders on and always dribble and turn the ball over left and right. Is it too late to correct him now? I don’t think so. A 21 year old player should still be corrected and told that dribbling with your blinders on leads to constant turnovers. It might work once, but you lose possession the other 9 times. Is that productive? 10%? Show him some video analysis of his game…..all college teams games are filmed. SHOW THE KID! He has talent but it has gone to waste.
Lalo, that’s a good insight about the magnification of unchecked errors over time. It seems your kid is protected, since you have that knowledge and probably give him good advice to steer him clear of those potential disasters and development limiters, such as the over-dribbling teammates. Good for you. My kids are smart and see this crap for what it is, too. Unfortunately, I am of the many parents who are not so wise, and thus rely more on the good intentions and competence of the coaches that I am paying. And there begin the problems….
Anyway, I thought it was bad that this U11/U12 problem is still present at U14, but it’s sad to find out, as Brian writes, that these things are still happening even at the college level! Don’t any of these older guys ever watch good soccer on TV, at least? And really, if a player still has these bad habits in college, can they ever be corrected, or is that just wishful thinking? You can’t teach a kid to be faster at 18, can you teach him to be smarter?
Brian Kleiban says
You can definitely teach this in college Alberto! Some of the “top notch” coaches claim it is too late. That they have recruited players that were not properly developed by their youth clubs.
My new claim is Caleb Porter. He brings in lots of “5 star” recruits. Meaning youth national team players. Well, I’ve seen these kids play on our u17’s and u20 teams and they are junk!!! Lumping the ball forward out of the back! Forcing the attack left and right! Amazing how at Creighton that stuff is prohibited. The back row connect with the 3 mids or wide forwards on the ground!!! Spacing is perfect out of the back. Amazing how with proper spacing you have more time on the ball. This leads to have the extra couple of seconds you need to control the ball and connect a pass when under pressure.
You should see and hear Porter tell his players off at the sign of 1 mistake by any player giving up possession. He sounds just like Gary going bananas on the sideline.
Alberto — I’m far from being a wise sage on soccer and defer to wiser footballing minds. I’ve played all my life and huge fan of the game (it’s the only sport I watch or follow). I do work with my son to fill the void. That’s beause coaches only see players twice a week for 90-mins. So majority of development is on the player. Watching TV, live matches, privates, pick-up games, practice on their own, etc.
IMHO, yes, players can get smarter at 18 (this s/b a continual process), but they’re already far behind the curve if that’s when they start. Learning to be smart starts much earlier (abou U12). But if player lacks technical (ball) skills they should focus on at earlier ages, then being smart won’t do much. Their eyes will be on the ball rather than looking to play quickly and find gaps for passing, runs, dribbles. Can’t play good soccer in a 5-foot radius. Needs to be whole field. Hence you need ball control.
By about U13 / U14, players get faster and anticipate better. So if you can’t control the ball (first touch) forget about it. They will loose the ball, have poor passing, get under pressure, and so on . . . .
I personally believe at about U13, players should spend as much time honing soccer smarts as they do with ball skills. At younger ages, it s/b ball skills.
This is why I think it’s so important to get kids in right coaching at younger ages.
I’d be interested to hear Gary’s comments on this.
Gary Kleiban says
Hi guys. I’ll write something up. This topic is really important and has to do with yet another one of the “American soccer myths”, and it needs to get squashed! More specifically, people believe we need to give players more freedom when in fact the problem is they have WAY to much freedom.
Thank you. You see, I have all this crazy shit in my brain put there by people I believed and trusted. Your stuff agrees better with my instincts.
I’ve never had the chance to see Oscar Aguero before his Cal State Fullerton days, but my god. Either his game has regressed tremendously since joining Fullerton, or the staff at Energie Cottbus were completely fooled. Guy is flat out not professional quality.
Brian Kleiban says
Aguero is the class of that Fullerton team. Scary thought huh? I can’t exactly tell you if his game has regressed or not since his high school days leading up to his German adventure. Reason being that when playing in a structureless environment with players of inferior quality, you cannot truly showcase your ability.
Does Aguero receive the ball in good situations? How many quality touches does he actually get to turn and create a goal scoring opportunity? He usually receives the ball after a 2nd ball is knocked down by the opposing defense and it accidentally falls to him. So no, he doesn’t get the ball in nice situations to be able to express himself. I’d like to have a good count from video analysis of how many touches he gets in a game.
Do his strikers make good runs off the ball to create space for him? Are they competent enough to throw a wall pass and link up? The back line rarely connects through the midfield unless they have massive amounts of time on the ball. Even then, they are allowed to “play-make” and dribble or lump it forward themselves. The Titan forwards don’t have much quality to assist a midfield player and allow the midfielder to showcase his talent.
There are lots of variables here. Aguero is a good player. Is he showing that as a Titan? NOPE! If he was on Akron where he’d get 60 touches per game, would we see a different version? FOR SURE!
There are lots of cases in recent memory that I’ve cited. Michael Farfan got to the promised land at UNC….college cup appearance and MLS draft. He’s starting as a rookie on the Union. Gabriel Farfan left Fullerton for pro soccer in Mexico. He’s now starting as a left back on the Union. Jose Gomez was a shadow of himself his freshman season as a Titan….he’s now at Creighton, getting the ball and producing at top of his game with pro agents all over him. Michael Balogun, the starting d-mid at Akron this season was once a Titan. Would he look as good as he does as a Zip had he stayed? NOT A CHANCE.
Soccer is a game where sometimes you are a product of your environment. I will not shoot down Aguero’s qualities just yet because he has lots of aspects to his game and when he gets it in the offensive third, Fullerton looks dangerous. Will he crack MLS? Time will tell.
Gary smith says
Theres a player who plays at CSUN names Sam Mahmood. He is supposed to an outstanding left back. I think Davila red shirted and he was dissapointed and got his release as his number 6 jersey is not on the roster anymore. He was involved in U17 national team camps and was a high product from San Diego. Lets see where he will end up.