When CSUDH men’s soccer coach Eddie Soto was hired in April 2019, it was with one goal in mind: returning the team to the heights it reached in the 2000s, when the squad won a pair of NCAA Division II national titles. Despite a 2020 season lost to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Toros are proceeding right on schedule.
The 2021 team finished the season with a 10-6-1 record, including a pair of tough losses to eventual national champion Cal State Los Angeles. “For us, it was a success,” says Soto, who previously served as head coach at the University of San Francisco and assistant coach at UCLA. “We got to the semi-finals of our conference tournament, were ranked as high as number 13 in the nation at one point, and went on a six-game winning streak. There were a lot of good moments.”
“But in all honesty, we weren’t ready for all that,” he continues. “We were a really young team, and we didn’t know how to handle it. Then we went through a COVID spell for a few weeks and were missing starters for some games. It hurt our rhythm a little bit, but I think that more than that, our team was just a bit too immature. With any program, you need to go through those moments to grow, learn, and build character, and I think we’re stronger for it.”
Soto is bullish at the prospects for this year’s Toros. “We did a really good job with our recruiting,” he says. “Because of COVID, there was a lot of talent out there that was being overlooked. We found some really good kids, mature kids, and hungry kids. We’re excited about the group that we have. We’ve got something to build on. We’re happy to see how they came into camp. They’re fit, they’re strong, and they’re sharp.”
A good recruiting year has given the Toros something they’ve lacked in recent seasons: depth. “When you look at Cal State LA and how they won the championship, they had a lot of depth,” says Soto. “They were able to keep a high tempo within their games because of that. It wore teams down. It wore us down. I feel very happy to say that we now have depth and we’re now going to be able to do the same to our opponents.”
The Toros will have their work cut out for them this season, as the California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) is once again one of the strongest around. Cal State LA is starting the season as the number one team in national polls, with Cal Poly Pomona ranking fifth. “We’re in the hardest conference in America,” says Soto. “But if we want to be higher ranked than LA and Pomona, if we want to win championships, we have to beat those teams.”
Team captain Alpha Sowe isn’t shy about his goals for the season: “Win the NCAA championship.” Sowe arrived here as a freshman in 2020–just in time for the pandemic to wipe out the entire season. The defender/midfielder is confident in the team’s chances this year. “It’s a tough conference, with a lot of tough competition. But I feel like everyone’s together and working. Hard work is everything. If we work hard, I think we’re going win it.”
Soto says there’s no secret about the style of play he would like the Toros to employ. “I’m someone who likes to take care of the ball. I’m a very technical coach, very possession-oriented. I love to be dynamic, but one thing I’ve learned over the years is that it’s important for us to be extremely disciplined and tough defensively. We like the ball and we like to go forward, but I’m putting a huge emphasis on what we’re doing defensively and being disciplined. Defense wins championships, they say, and it’s a true statement.”
The coach wants CSUDH students to share in the excitement around this year’s team. “We’re a fun group to watch,” says Soto. “I would love to get more student support. Come watch an exciting soccer game–very attack-minded, with a lot of goals. We’re going to be a successful program to be behind, so I hope people come out, be part of the Toro Nation and part of what we’re going to do.”
The CSUDH men’s soccer team begins their season against Academy of Art on Thursday, August 25, at 6:00 p.m. at Toro Stadium. Their complete schedule is available at https://gotoros.com/sports/mens-soccer/schedule/2022.