The 2007 San Jose State University men’s soccer team will rely on 12 returning lettermen, eight of them starters, and a stellar recruiting class, including three region and three state team players, to get the program back to the NCAA Championship for the first time since 2003.
“I’m optimistic that we will be much better,” says Gary St. Clair as he approaches his 18th year in charge at his alma mater. “We have added a great deal of depth and competition at each position. All teams go through cycles because of graduation and recruiting. Last year, we were one of the most inexperienced teams that I have coached at San Jose State. I think that based upon the experience that those young players received in 2006, and the experience that they continued to get last spring, I see this team really turning a corner.
“How good will we be? It’s hard to say. It depends on the continued development of the players that we have. However, one of my reasons for optimism, is we have a year of experience under our belt, which is absolutely critical. We are not going to be reliant on as many freshmen and sophomores as we have in the past. I also believe that this team is going to be far more internally competitive because of the experience, but also because of the good, young players that we have brought into the program.”
The forward line welcomes back the team’s top scorer from 2006 in Colby Moore, as well as the 2005 MPSF “Co-Newcomer of the Year” in Ismael Ibarra. Moore tallied four goals in his first season of college soccer, including two game-winners, while Ibarra provided five goals, four of them game-winners, and five assists, during a very productive first season of major college soccer prior to taking last year off.
“Colby and Ismael are very much from the same mold in that they are a handful for defenders,” explains St. Clair. “I think that everybody is looking for Ish to make a big contribution to this team. He simply has a knack for scoring. Colby got a lot of experience playing in this position last year.”
Returners who will vie for time in what will generally look like a one-forward, 4-5-1 alignment on the field for St. Clair, are seniors Savio Carrijo and Julio Gonzalez.
Newcomers who can play up top include Olympic Development Program (ODP) regional standout Brent Young and ODP state team players Steve Dongo and Robert Jackson.
“The strength of this team is probably going to lie in midfield again this year,” remarks St. Clair. “I think that potentially, we have a very good group of central midfielders, and I say potentially only because two of the three could be brand new.”
Second-team All-MPSF pick Hiroki Akiyama is back to lead this deep and talented group, probably in a holding midfield position.
Continues St. Clair, “Hiroki does just about everything well. He reads the game and can run all day long. He is a sure bet to play for us in midfield.”
Roberto Castaeda could play alongside Akiyama, with fellow newcomer Efrain Burgos, Jr., a favorite to see the bulk of time as the attacking midfielder.
Says St. Clair, “Roberto, Hiroki and Junior give us the ability to hold the ball in midfield, which is something we have not been able to do consistently for years.”
Providing depth behind that trio will be Jacob Morrison. Nick Cukar has the inside track on the right side, with Yousef Samy challenging him. Options on the left side include returner Edward Murillo-Jimenez, as well as newcomer Bernabe Camacho, Jr., an ODP regional player.
Ricky Dorrego, another ODP regional player and top local prospect who was named the section’s “Player of the Year” by the San Jose Mercury News as a senior at Lincoln High School, should make an immediate impact.
State team player Justin Castro, out of nearby Archbishop Mitty High School, adds more depth, as do Moore, Jackson and Young.
“The backline will be better than it was last year,” says St. Clair. “The defense gave up one goal in eight matches in the spring, and while it’s not the same thing as the fall, it’s a good indication that we are on the right track.
Returning standouts include 2006 first-team All-MPSF selection Ed Brand, the Spartans’ anchor and two-time co-captain, and his central tandem partner Sam Shore.
“I would take Ed over any other central defender in the conference,” states St. Clair. “We expect a very solid year out of him. Ed is a natural-born leader back there, and I think he has a very good central defender mate in Sam Shore. Sam is tall and imposing at six-foot-five. He reads the game very well and is a good technical player.”
A couple of position changes were made in the spring to bolster the outside. Gavin Wenyon, a corner kick specialist who enters 2007 with the most starts among any current Spartan, switched from right to left back. In turn, Brian McGuire moved from the right side of midfield, to the right back spot.
Oscar Monjaras can play anywhere on the back line, while 2006 redshirt Osvaldo Alcala and newcomer Kachiside Madu should provide depth on the outside.
Richard Mann, a third-team All-MPSF honoree in 2006 and co-captain for the new season, is set to begin his third campaign as the Spartan starter in goal.
“Our goalkeeper situation is probably as good as it has been in the past three years,” says St. Clair. “Richard has started for us for two years, and has grown as a player by leaps and bounds during that time.”
Expected to make a legitimate challenge for some playing time is junior college transfer Lewis Sweeney, who joined the team in the spring and performed well.
The Spartans will begin the regular season with their first out-of-region trip since 1995, at the Davidson adidas Classic in Davidson, N.C. The September 20 home opener with Santa Clara, one of eight home games, highlights the non-conference schedule.
“With the trip to North Carolina, we will get an early indication about just where we are with this team,” concludes St. Clair. “The great thing for us is that ours is always one of the more difficult schedules on the west coast and in the nation, simply because geographically, we play in such a strong Division I soccer area.
“I think the (Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) is going to be wide open. It’s going to be that way because there are going to be a lot of good teams, not because there’s going to be no strong teams. New Mexico has had two or three solid recruiting years, and they are going to be extremely good. The MPSF again will be very strong.”