SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The 2016 San José State University men’s soccer team returns seven starters and 11 letterwinners from a squad that qualified for the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) tournament last year.
14 newcomers including six transfers with college playing experience compliment the returnees to field a deep team for Spartans head coach Simon Tobin.
“This is the first year I feel that on the field and on the bench, we have a very solid, deep squad,” said Tobin, in his third year at the helm. “This year, we have a lot more options, so I’m quite happy. From one thru 26 (players), they should all be capable of playing at this level.”
Tobin broke down the positional battles for the upcoming season headlined by two preseason All-WAC honorees, Rory Knibbs and Jonathan Colunga.
Returning Letterwinners (2): Rory Knibbs (SR), Zach Penner (SO)
Letterwinners Lost (2): Eric Mendez, Greg Harte
Squad Members Lost (0): None
Newcomers (4):Jeremy Romero (JR), Joey Bastian (SO), Suliman Khorami (FR), Kyle Pinto (FR)
Knibbs, a preseason All-WAC honoree for the third time in his career, led the team in goals (11), points (23), shots (60), shots on goal (30) and game winners (4) in 2015. The London, England, native’s 23 points were the most on the team since 2002.
“As our focal point up top, we have Rory. We also have Joey Bastian, Jeremy Romero and Zach Penner, who can all play that ‘number 9,’ the attacker, as all are proven goal scorers,” said Tobin.
Bastian, a sophomore transfer from Butler University, started 10 games in 2014 for the Bulldogs tying for the team lead in assists with three. He finished fifth on the team in shots with 20 with half of those on goal.
Romero transferred from CSU-East Bay where he started in 23 contests out of 33 games in his two years. The Hercules, Calif., native tied for the team lead in goals (5) and points (12) in 2015 while leading in shots (53) and shots on goal (21).
“The two transfers in Bastian and Romero gives us experience at a good level and can immediately make an impact,” said Tobin.
As a freshman, Penner tied for third on the team with goals (2) while having the second highest shot on goal percentage at 63.6%.
Returning Letterwinners (4): Alex Alcaraz (SR), Jonathan Colunga (SR), Darren Sinclair (JR), Jonathan Partida (SO)
Returning Squad Member (1): Dillon Abraham
Letterwinners Lost (3): Jonathan Gutierrez, Victor Parra, Luis Vargas
Squad Members Lost (3): Alex Anastasi, Matthew Carnefix, Evan Sanchez
Newcomers (4): Leo Silva (JR), Ralph Stas (FR), Chris Marinez (JR), Ronnie Lomeli (FR)
At midfield, the Spartans have another preseason All-WAC player in Jonathan Colunga. Tobin will look to play three central midfielders with six players pushing for those spots.
“Hopefully, Jonathan Colunga should be looking to move on to the professional level after his senior year. He’s the one that should make us tick as he should be like our quarterback where most things will go through him,” said Tobin.
Colunga, a senior midfielder from Lindsay, Calif., tied for the team lead in assists (4), and finished second in goals (4), points (12), shots (47) and shots on goal (21).
Alex Alcaraz, a fellow senior also tied for the team lead in assists. He will form a skillful central midfield with Colunga.
“Leo Silva can step in there. As can Jonathan Partida and Dillon Abraham. So, we have a lot of central midfielders including a newcomer from Belgium, Ralph Stas,” said Tobin.
At wide midfield, Bastian, Romero and freshman Suliman Khorami are expected to help out immediately.
“It’s quite rare for a freshman to make an impact straight away but Suliman, a local lad from Dublin, Calif., is part of the Under-20 Afghanistan national team and I think he could play a big part even in his freshman year. He’s played for the San Jose Earthquakes Academy. It’s very, very hard at a top Division I level for a freshman to make an impact, but he’s an exciting player to watch and I expect him to be an immediate contributor,” Tobin commented.
Returning Letterwinners (5): Kyle O’Mahoney (SR), Uriel Ayala (SR), Scott Buskey (SO), Carlos Valdovinos (JR), Andrew Mendoza (SO) – moved from forward.
Letterwinners Lost (4): Ciaran Maguire, Eddie Saydee, Kyler McLaughlin, Mikhail Wingate-Pearse
Squad Members Lost (2): Dylan West, Johnny Sun
Newcomers (3): Angel Farias (FR), Jeff Dukes (FR), Joseph Kay (JR)
The Spartans will have the most experience returning on the backline with a pair of three-time letterwinners in Kyle O’Mahoney and Uriel Ayala, along with two-time letterwinner Carlos Valdovinos and Scott Buskey who played as a freshman last year.
The backline will be counted heavily as the Spartans do not return a goalkeeper who has played in a San José State uniform with Nedin Tucakovic, Kris Donaldson and Rodrigo Reyes-Zavalza (Goalkeeper preview).
“We have Kyle O’Mahoney, a senior, who should be the rock of our defense. Playing alongside him could be Buskey, also Jeffrey Dukes, a freshman,” said Tobin.
“I like to have attacking fullbacks, on the right side, it's a real battle between Mendoza, Valdovinos and Sinclair. On the left side, Ayala or Kay.
“So for defense, we have eight or nine guys all vying for those four positions.”
Eddie Saydee, who started in 17 games last season as a freshman, went on his church mission and is expected to be back in two years.
The Spartans play four teams that made the NCAA tournament last year. At home, they face defending WAC champion, Seattle University, and conference runner-up Utah Valley. The other two will be on the road at defending NCAA champion Stanford and Santa Clara.
“The main point I bring up to my team is we played four NCAA teams and lost all four by one goal. So there’s good and bad. That's how close we are, but there’s a common theme as we didn’t get any of those wins. So we weren’t good enough four times. But it showed where we were getting and that's really an accurate reflection of where we were last year,” said Tobin.
“I know where we are as a team. Our job to is to strengthen up and use our experiences from last year. We should be at a stage where we win two out of four when playing against those NCAA teams.”
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