The UC Santa Cruz men’s soccer team saw little success in their 2013-14 campaign. Coming away with just three wins they struggled to find a rhythm on either end of the field, scoring just 10 team goals on the year and allowing their opponents to score 41 over the course of the season.
Age, experience and commitment however led to a momentous turnaround for the team this year. With four games left in the season the Slugs have an 8-5-1 record and find themselves in a position to qualify for the NCAA tournament. They’ve allowed only 15 goals on the year while scoring 17 themselves.
“A lot of it is the experience factor. It’s the same group of players with another year under their belt,” said senior midfielder Daniel Tirosh. “We really learned a lot from what happened to us last year. We’ve just applied what we’ve learned.”
Slugs head coach Michael Runeare attributes his club’s success primarily to the senior leadership. With 21 of the 29 players on the squad being upperclassmen, Runeare said the core of the team now has the experience needed to win.
“It’s their fourth year in the program and they understand the expectations. They’re finally getting to a place where they’re focused and realize that this could be their last opportunity,” Runeare said.
Tirosh echoed his coach’s sentiments saying this is the last year for many players on the team, something he says they use as motivation for this season and the upcoming push for the tournament.
“The core of the team is seniors. The leadership is all seniors and there is no next year. We’re very motivated to get it right,” Tirosh said.
One major area of improvement and point of emphasis for the team is on the defensive side. Runeare credits the turnaround on defense to an overall improved team defense and to the outstanding backline play led by sophomore Mike Sanchez.
“Defensively this year we’re much better throughout the team, as our team defending is much improved from last year,” Runeare said. “[Sanchez’s] pure athleticism helps us defensively. He helps cover for the team and the backline. He’s had a really good season.”
Another defensive standout for the Slugs this fall is senior goalkeeper David Vivian. Vivian, who played just six games last season and posted a goals against average (GAA) of 2.86, is having a breakout senior season for the Slugs this year. As the starting goalkeeper Vivian plays every minute the team plays, posting a GAA of 1.05 and allowing just 15 goals thus far in the year — good enough for second place among all Division III Independents for both categories.
“[Vivian is] one of those seniors who really stepped up from his prior performances. He’s made some crucial saves throughout the season,” Runeare said.
On the offensive side, senior forward Zach Hummel is ranked second in Division III Independents with six goals scored. He leads a Slugs offense that was stagnant last season but has put through 17 goals already on the season, seven more then they scored all of last year.
The Slugs will play University of Antelope Valley (0-8-0) at home on Monday. Then they take to the road where they’ll close out the season playing Division III rival Chapman on Oct. 25, followed by back-to-back games against Southwestern (5-7-1) and No. 3 Trinity (13-1-0) on Nov. 1-2. The Slugs will likely have to win all of their remaining games to earn a spot in the national tournament.
“We’re at a point right now where we really have to take it one game at a time,” senior midfielder Tirosh said. “We’re essentially in playoff mode right now where it’s do or die for us.”