It’s been a rollercoaster of a season for SLCC men’s soccer. Early dominance and a 4-2 win over the University of Utah was the story out of the gate, but injuries and some adversity has followed. Despite the ups and downs the squad has experienced, Bruins head soccer coach Enrique Velasquez is confident about his team’s chances in the upcoming postseason.
“I like what we’re doing,” said Velasquez, who has coached at SLCC for over 20 years. “The times that we’ve been beaten, I don’t think we’ve been outplayed, and that’s encouraging.”
The Bruins have a record of 10-3-3 (10 wins, 3 losses, 3 ties). Their solid effort has guaranteed them the right to move on to the postseason to compete at the regional tournament in Boise, ID. Regionals begin Oct. 22.
“We’re really coming together,” said SLCC left wing T.J. McClure, who has played soccer for 13 years. “We started out really strong, but then we kind of wavered because some of the guys were struggling with school.”
With a couple of Bruins having minor troubles maintaining grades and a lot of key players out with injuries, the SLCC roster has been thin at times this season. Soccer is a sport that rewards endurance, and with few substitutes to turn to fatigue can become a factor.
“We’ve had at least three major injuries,” said Velasquez, a native of Guatemala who has been involved with soccer his entire life. “We’ve lost two guys for the season with torn ACL ligaments, and James Vincent, a key player for us has been out with a pulled groin.”
Vincent is often referred to by teammates as the “field general” for his ability to direct the team out on the field, and for his talent at distributing the ball. On the sideline, his desire to be out on the pitch is evident.
“He wants to play, you can just see it,” said Bruin captain Cameron Crump, who himself hasn’t been immune to the injury bug this year. “The injury to James is a big factor.”
SLCC reserve goalkeeper Jordan Close suffered a severe knee sprain and has been out for several matches as well. Close filled in well for starting netminder Alberto Santoyo, who has spent time out with injury this season as well.
A bit shorthanded, the Bruins took a couple of blows to the chin in midseason, but have bounced back in positive fashion. On Friday, Oct. 8, SLCC played in what may be its final home match of the 2010 season against Utah State University (USU).
The Aggies, who have given the Bruins some difficulty this season, brought their pressing attack to the field west of the Lifetime Activities Center on SLCC’s Taylorsville Redwood Campus.
The match was a back and forth affair early, with neither side able to put any shots on frame. In the 10th minute, SLCC’s Nick Vicchrilli had the game’s first real shot on goal, but his attempt was parried by the USU goalkeeper.
Bruin defender Max Hansen was able to send away any real Aggie attacks and helped SLCC keep USU off of the scoreboard. The game’s first goal came on a low, powerful shot to the left side of the USU net by Vicchrilli, giving the Bruins a 1-0 lead.
SLCC’s goalkeeper Alberto (Beto) Santoyo turned away all Aggie shots in the first half; most notably a diving save in the 28th minute, and parrying a good USU chance from the left side in the 41st.
Santoyo had some offensive support in front of him, with Chris Blymiller setting up teammate Isaac Saavedra on a give-and-go goal in the 39th minute. Saavedra chipped the ball into the top left corner of the net, giving the Bruins a 2-0 lead they would carry into halftime.
“I think we played our game for the most part–[Velasquez] was pleased, and we were moving the ball around,” SLCC’s Collin Wilson said of the first half of play. “When we move the ball, things start fo fall into place.”
In the second half, Utah State pressured the Bruin defenders, making it more difficult for SLCC to possess the ball. The Aggies were able to draw a penalty in the 65th minute and score on a second attempt at a penalty kick. Bruin keeper Santoyo was called for stepping forward off the goal line on the first attempt, which he knocked away.
With a 2-1 lead, the Bruins tried to simply maintain possession and defend through the last 25 minutes. The Aggies had a couple of good scoring chances in the waning minutes of the match, but SLCC was able to hold on for the one goal victory.
“Beating Utah State felt really good today,” said McClure, who stands well over 6-feet-4 inches tall. “We want to get through regionals–we feel like we have the talent and the team to make it.”
With regionals approaching, the Bruins are hoping to get their field leader Vincent back and get into the best shape possible. Coach Velasquez knows that his team needs to learn the “killer instinct” to put teams away, and feels that execution is this squad’s Achilles heel.
“The reason I hesitate is because we’re not consistent yet,” said Velasquez in regard to his squad’s hopes at regionals. “We’ve seen signs of brilliance, of really phenomenal, outstanding soccer–but we haven’t reached that plateau where we stay consistent all the time.”
After losing in last year’s regional championship game, SLCC is looking to get past regionals and on to the national tournament. They’ll need to bring their best to do so, with teams like Oregon State, Portland, Weber State and more to contend with.
On Saturday, the Bruins defeated the favored Weber State Wildcats, 1-0. The win was Velasquez’s first against WSU in his 20 plus years of coaching the Bruins. Find out more about SLCC men’s soccer at slcc.edu/sll/competition_soccer.asp.