July 28, 2005
Fullerton, CA - Coach Al Mistri never has been known to bite his lip and he isn't about to start now as he enters his 25th and final season as men's soccer coach at Cal State Fullerton.
"We have the best talent we've had in quite some time," he says with no hesitation. "Barring some of the unfortunate kinds of things that happened to us last year, I think we are going to go out with a bang. It's easy to be optimistic going into a season, but we are confident we will get back to the NCAA playoffs and make a run at the conference championship."
The reason for Mistri's "guarded" optimism is twofold -- a virtual double recruiting class.
"For reasons we don't need to disect, we finally were able to aggressively pursue and recruit new talent and utilize our full allotment of available scholarships," said Mistri, whose only current retirement plans are to visit his parents in native Italy and stay away from coaching. "The results will be obvious. We have brought in three strong European players and two high school recruits as well as three players who will enter in the Spring and be a great starting point for the next coach -- (current Assistant Bob Ammann is Mistri's recommendation).
"Secondly, we get three players back who missed all of last year in Eugene Brooks, Amir Shafii and Brett Gallinger. It would have been four, but Marco Rodriguez had to undergo further knee surgery. They would have made a significant impact on last year's record, I'm positive. We won all but one of our Spring games and it was obvious what a difference the presence of Eugene, Brett and Amir made."
Fullerton sustained in 2004 only its seventh losing season in the Mistri Era at 6-10-2. All but one of the losses was by one goal and two came in the second overtime period to the teams which eventually played in the Soccer Cup -- national champion Indiana and runnerup UC Santa Barbara.
"We have again cut out a job for ourselves with our non-conference schedule and the Big West is one of the top five conferences in the nation, no question about it," said Mistri. "The whole schedule is as demanding as ever. The European players give us the maturity, experience and stability we will need to deal with it."
The international flavor comes from Englishmen Arron Craggs and Jason O'Connor and German Florian Wolff. Craggs (Yorkshire) is a midfielder who played two seasons at Judson College in Elgin, Illinois, where he earned NAIA All-American honors and led his team to a two-year record of 23-1-1. O'Connor (London) is a big (6-foot-2) defender who captained his county side that won the South East Regional Championship and played for AFC Bournemouth. Wolff is considered one of the best talents for his age group to come out of Hamburg. He scored 40 goals in 150 matches over a 3-year period.
The other half of the incoming class consists of Yavapai College transfer Bobby Armstrong and two of the stars of the Martin Luther King High School team from Riverside in Justin Cook and Jacob Shumway. Goalkeeper Armstrong (Jr., Aurora, CO) went 45-4-1 in the nets and led Yavapai to the 2003 national championship while twice winning JC All-American honors. Cook is a three-time first-team all-league and two-time All-CIF midfielder/forward. Shumway won all-league honors three times as well as all-county and All-CIF acclaim at midfielder.
Armstrong will challenge holdover goalkeeper Matt Cowan (Jr., Arcadia, CA / Temple City HS), who played in 7 matches (2-2 in four starts) in the past two seasons behind departed Sam Reynolds and had a strong Spring campaign. A handful of walk-ons also will augment 14 returning lettermen and 5 returning starters.
Brooks (Jr., El Paso, TX / Bel Air HS) was the Titans' No. 2 scorer in 2002 with 7 goals and 15 points and earned honorable mention All-Big West honors. But he developed foot problems which ultimately resulted in surgery that sidelined him for all of last season. Rodriguez (Jr., Diamond Bar, CA / Diamond Ranch HS) started 16 matches as a rookie in 2003 but injured a knee in the 2004 opener and had surgery. Shafii (RSoph., Irvine, CA / Woodbridge HS) started all 20 matches as a freshman in 2003 but went down with an ankle injury in a pre-season scrimmage last year. Redshirt freshman Gallinger (Gig Harbor, WA / Bellarmine Prep) started three matches before mononucleosis abruptly turned his 2004 campaign into a medical hardship claim.
Eleven other lettermen who survived last season intact also return led by the Nos. 2 and 3 scorers in sophomore Steve Moreno (Oceanside, CA / Rancho Buena Vista HS) and sophomore Ben Hofstetter (Boise, ID / Timberline HS), who had 10 and 9 points, respectively. Junior defender Taylor Sheldrick (Palmdale, CA / Quartz Hill HS) had the first three goals of the season and started more matches (17) than any other Titan. Powerful Jose Barragan (Signal Hill, CA / Compton College) returns for a senior season and will concentrate on a striker's role.
The injuries of last season did produce one positive -- force-feeding some youngsters on Div. I play. Six freshmen who saw plenty of action in 2004 return as sophomores in midfielder Allen Chote (Seatown, Wellington, NX / St. Patrick's HS), defender Anthony Dedeaux (Huntington Beach, CA / Mater Dei HS), Alejandro Diaz (Lennox, CA / Animo Leadership HS), defender German Moreno (Long Beach, CA / Cabrillo HS), forward Farzad Samari (Tehran, Iran) and midfielder Skyler Thuresson (Long Beach, CA / Seaside Academy).
Maryland, which tied for third in last year's NCAA Tournament, opens Fullerton's season with an inaugural matchup on Sept. 2 in Titan Stadium. The Terrapins (17-6-2) are the first of eight matches against last year's 32-team field with Santa Clara (15-6), Penn State (10-4-8), Ohio State (12-7-2) and two conference clashes each with UCSB (21-3-1) and Cal State Northridge (11-6-2) to follow.
Coach Mistri can't be accused of taking the easy way out.