Last winter, as most at California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) were getting ready for finals or thinking about winter break, Toro men’s soccer Head Coach Eddie Soto was hard at work on his prestigious “side hustle”: leading the U.S. men’s beach soccer team to the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in Paraguay.
Soto, who was hired in April 2019 to lead CSUDH’s men’s soccer program, has been involved with beach soccer for over 20 years. After an All-American career at CSU Fullerton playing on traditional grass pitches, Soto was a player on the first U.S. national beach soccer team, back before it was even considered a part of the U.S. Soccer establishment.
“Being from Southern California, I spent a lot of time on the sand in the summer, so it was a sport I picked up pretty easily,” says Soto. “It was love at first sight. It was a way to stay in the game, and I got to travel the world, got paid to do it, and got to meet a lot of really big names in the world of soccer.”
After seven years as a player, Soto retired and took a job in the IT department at DreamWorks. He got into coaching in the early 2000s, working as an assistant at CSU Fullerton, Long Beach State, and UCLA. He was drawn back into the world of beach soccer in 2009, when he got a call asking him to take over as head coach. He took over the position in 2009, and the team’s appearance at the 2019 World Cup was their second under his watch.
While Soto is justifiably proud of leading his team to another World Cup, he was understandably frustrated by the results. The team lost all three games in the group stage of the competition, despite playing well against several of the world’s top teams. Their first match was a nail-biter against Switzerland, currently the eighth-ranked team in the world, which the U.S. ended up losing 8-6.
That put the squad into a must-win match against Japan, another international beach soccer power. The U.S. lost in a heartbreaker, giving up a late free kick and losing 4-3. The team finished group play with a 5-1 loss to the hosts, Paraguay. A few breaks here and there, and the team could have advanced to the knockout stage, and as Soto says, “Once you get out of group play it’s anybody’s game.”
The U.S. team’s achievements become all the more impressive when you realize that they’re one of the few top international teams that isn’t made up of full-time professionals. Beach soccer powerhouses like Portugal and Russia actually have leagues, so players are competing against their peers all year round. The U.S. team, on the other hand, has to wait around for invitations to tournaments. Most years, they only get together for two or three events a year.
“Beach soccer is a sport where the more you play, the better you get,” says Soto. “It’s tough when other guys are playing two or three times more often than you are. It’s frustrating because we can compete against the best teams, but being able to come out victorious is often about those little intricacies that you only get by playing all the time.”
Although the U.S. is currently ranked 16th in the world, Soto feels that they’re just scratching the surface of their potential. As an example, Soto points to wins against top teams like Russia, Japan, Spain, and Switzerland. “And this is a bunch of amateurs with day jobs!” he says. “We have a guy who’s a plumber, a guy who’s working in pharmaceuticals, and a guy who’s living with his parents. And we’re competing against guys who are pros and are getting paid to play!”
Back at home, Soto is currently leading his Toro men’s team through spring practice, in preparation for the fall 2020 season. After a successful stint as head coach at the University of San Francisco, Soto was hired by CSUDH to help rebuild a program that had fallen off after winning a pair of NCAA Division II titles in the 2000s. He’s excited about the new direction of the team.
“We’re in a rebuilding phase, and there have been a lot of changes to the staff, players, and personnel,” says Soto. “My staff and I are working really hard and recruiting has gone well. Guys have really bought into what we’re trying to do and where we want to go. We have guys with the right mindset who want to help propel this program to where it needs to be, and that’s on top.”
Soto is confident that he can bring success back to the Toro soccer program. “CSUDH has a lot of history. We’ve done it in the past and we’re going to put our best foot forward and try and do the same.”