Spartan men's soccer to play exhibition game;

Fans can get their first look at the 2001 edition of the San Jose State University men’s soccer team this Friday night at Spartan Stadium when the Spartans host UC Santa Cruz in an exhibition game scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m.

The Spartans are ranked 14th in the pre-season NSCAA (National Soccer Coaches Association of America) poll. San Jose State was also ranked 14th in the final NSCAA poll of the 2000 season.

Season Outlook:

Coming off the most successful season in school history – a 20-1-1 campaign (8-0 in league) that included a four-week stint as the No. 1 ranked team in the country – some may say that the San Jose State University men’s soccer team is facing a rebuilding year.

But despite the loss of seven starters including All-Americans Ryan Suarez, Jorge Martinez and Chris Humphreys, and Isaias Bardales, a first-team Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Mountain Division selection as a sophomore, Spartan head coach Gary St. Clair believes otherwise.

“I think the way to look at this is, we lost some good players but we have some good players coming back,” said St. Clair, noting that key players including Fausto Villegas, Frank Sanfilippo, Lars Lyssand and Gonzalo Guerro return for his 11th season as head coach. “While we lost a lot, that’s a wonderful base to have coming back.”

Then add in a strong recruiting class and St. Clair says, “I think in some cases we’ll be better than last year. We brought in a lot of good players and they will provide us with tremendous depth.”

Start at goalkeeper, where the now-departed Chris Humphreys set the single-season school record with 14 combined shutouts and tied St. Clair’s career shutout record of 18. Returning after a one-year absense is Gilbert Vega, who split the starting duties with Humphreys in 1999. Also returning is Eddie Dominguez, whom St. Clair says has “improved tremendously.” Also returning is Jason Horner, who backed up Humphreys last year and two newcomers – junior college transfer Daniel Benton and freshman Dustin Brim. “We’ll be just fine. We’re very competent in the goal,” St. Clair said.

On defense, the key loss was Suarez, the MPSF’s Mountain Division Player of the Year and a first-team NSCAA All-American. Along with Guerra, the returning veterans include Alvaro Calderon and Michael Patrick. The newcomers include Nicky Bukowski, who has four years of first-division experience in Norway and played on a junior team that won a Norwegion national championship. Other newcomers include Ralston Masaniai, Kyle Fraser, Jonathan Doran and Richard Halvorsen. “All look quite good,” St. Clair said, “so I think we’ll be fine on defense this year.”

With all four starters returning, midfield should be the strength of the team this year. Along with Sanfilippo, Villegas and Lyssand, Tony Chang also returns. “We can certainly keep the ball and move it up field,” St. Clair said. “We were wondering where that was at the beginning of last year and we had no problem with that. Backups include returnees Thomas Gibson, Cesar Gutierrez and Francisco Martinez, and freshman Fernando Martinez, the younger brother of Jorge Martinez.

Replacing Jorge Martinez at forward may be the toughest challenge St. Clair has. The possibilities include returnee Daniel Castillo and Sven Juhlin, a freshman with international experience in his native Sweden. “That’s a very crucial spot right now,” St. Clair said. “You need a Chi (Isaias Bardales) or somebody like that to run things, particularly in our system where that’s very important.”

Can the Spartans successfully defend its MPSF title in the revamped league, which this year includes eight teams in one division? St. Clair says yes. “Sure it is,” he says. “If we can win it with 13 teams we can win it with eight. But there’s three or four teams that can win it.

“It’s a game-at-a-time type of thing,” St. Clair said. “Everybody will be shooting for us. That target that was there starting in the middle of last season is still there. It’s a very good conference. It’ll be very difficult for us to repeat.”