The 2022 CSUDH men’s soccer team may have won the California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) title and reached the third round of the NCAA Division II Championships, but head coach Eddie Soto can’t help but think about what might have been.
“There was a lot to be very, very proud of last season,” says Soto. “But in the end, we came up short. We missed our expectations, to be honest. We had a team that could have gone further. We all felt that way.”
The team’s dreams of reaching the Elite Eight were dashed with a third-round tournament loss to Northwest Nazarene University. Despite dominating most of the match and scoring a go-ahead goal in the 83rd minute, the Toros were beaten by a pair of very late goals. The 3-2 loss sent the Toros crashing out of the tournament earlier than expected.
“We were six minutes from the Elite Eight, and here we are ready to start a new season and that bad taste is still in my mouth,” says Soto, who heads the United Soccer Coaches (USC) 2022 West Region Coaching Staff of the Year. “I think it’s the same with the guys. I’m not taking anything away from what our players and our team did. It was great, we had a fantastic year, and we’re back on the national map, which is great.”
“But they had two goals in 58 seconds! You tip your hat to the other team. They were very resilient, they came back and beat us, but I think at the end of the day, we beat ourselves. I think everybody feels that way.”
Soto is determined that the squad learn from its mistakes last season. One of his favorite catchphrases is “Complacency Hinders Progress,” and the coach believes that was part of the Toros’ undoing in the tournament loss.
“I think our guys were thinking that the game was over,” says Soto. “They were already thinking of the Elite Eight, and then in one minute we lose the game. It was a tough lesson to learn, but I’m a big believer that you learn a lot from losing. Hopefully, we’ve learned that we can never feel complacent or comfortable with where we are.”
The Toros start the 2023 season with renewed expectations, and were voted tenth nationally in the annual USC preseason poll–the highest-ranked team in the CCAA. Soto doesn’t want to get ahead of himself, though. He knows that the CCAA is a minefield to traverse over the course of the season.
“It’s always tough,” he says. “We’re the ACC of Division II. It’s the toughest conference in the country. I don’t see it being any different from last year. Every game is going to be a battle. That’s why recruiting is so important. You can’t rely on what you’ve done in the past, it’s always about here and now. On any given day, any team can win in our conference. You can’t underestimate anyone.”
The Toros lost several key contributors from last season’s squad, including CCAA Male Athlete of the Year Sulaiman Bah, who transferred to Cal State Fullerton along with fellow Sierra Leone native Alpha Sowe. Replacing them won’t be easy, but Soto and his staff have had a great recruiting year and expect many of the new Toros to make a big impact.
“Depth is going to be very important, especially in the CCAA, where the season takes a toll on guys–physically, mentally, and emotionally,” says Soto. “Our number one goal when we were recruiting was to improve our depth. I feel that we’ve done that in every position. We have a lot of talent on the team. Now it’s about who’s going to adapt, to compete, to be consistent, and at the end of the day, who’s going to produce?”
Soto has big expectations for the squad this season, but stresses that the Toros can’t get ahead of themselves. “For us, it’s about who are we playing on that given day, and all our concentration and focus is on that. That needs to start with me and my staff, we’re not going to look ahead. We can’t. We’ve got to focus on the moment.”
The team and coaching staff are excited to get the season started and see how far they can go. “We have some really dynamic and athletic guys who are also technically skilled,” says Soto. “I’m really excited to see if we can put all the pieces together. That’s the hard part.”
The CSUDH men’s soccer team plays their home opener against Azusa Pacific University on Thursday, Aug. 31 at 6:00 p.m., at Toro Stadium. Their complete schedule is available at https://gotoros.com/sports/mens-soccer/schedule.