Titan men’s soccer hit road to begin Big West campaign

Freshman defender Zach Bryan controls the ball looking to make a play. The Titans will travel to UCSB and Cal Poly SLO to begin conference play.

Freshman defender Zach Bryan controls the ball looking to make a play. The Titans will travel to UCSB and Cal Poly SLO to begin conference play.

Having snapped a recent four-game losing streak by posting back-to-back wins against Nebraska-Omaha and Grand Canyon University, there might be light at the end of the tunnel for the 3-5 Cal State Fullerton men’s soccer team.

Then again, that light could be the Big West train headed right for the Titans.

On Friday, the men’s soccer team will hope to put their non-conference troubles aside when they kick off Big West play against the Gauchos of UC Santa Barbara before making the short trip Sunday to San Luis Obispo to take on Cal Poly. Scoring three goals in each of their last two victories, the Titans have recently come into their stride offensively.

After failing to record a single point in his first four matches, junior winger Ian Ramos has found a good vein of form in the last four, netting three goals to lead the Titans with six points. Also junior transfers Amara Soumah and Marc Fenelus have chipped in with four points each.

In addition to the bevy of Titan goals recently, CSUF has also been much better on the defensive side of the ball. Their win at Nebraska-Omaha 3-0 was the team’s first shutout of the season and the first road shutout since 2011. Senior goalkeeper Robbie Hannon seems to have wrestled the team’s starting keeper job away from fellow senior Bryan Escalante in recent weeks.

Hannon’s last two matches have coincided with the Titans’ recent winning streak and the goalkeeper has posted a 1.00 goals-against average thus far. Titans’ Head Coach Bob Ammann is likely to keep rolling the dice with Hannon in the team’s first two Big West matches with Escalante on standby ready if needed.

As for the Titans’ opponents on the weekend, first up is a possible sleeping giant in the UCSB Gauchos. Raising the NCAA College Cup as recently as 2006, the Gauchos became a soccer powerhouse in the previous decade. But last season, Tom Vom Steeg’s men experienced a lean year finishing last in the Big West’s North Division.

This season, the Gauchos have stumbled a bit on their way to a 5-4 record, including a 3-3 mark at home where they routinely draw upwards of 3,000 fans a match. With the Titans just 1-3 away from home, it’s imperative CSUF start brightly in their match Friday to keep the Harder Stadium crowd out of it.

If UCSB can be considered a sleeping giant, then Cal Poly SLO is the rising star of the Big West. Boasting a 7-3 record, the Mustangs were briefly ranked No. 23 in Top Drawer Soccer’s National Rankings until a 2-1 loss to the University of Denver in their previous match.

The loss aside, Cal Poly SLO has serious weapons at their disposal up top. Senior forward Mackenzie Pridham netted a hat trick in a 5-1 victory over Air Force on Sept. 27 and leads Big West scorers with eight goals on the season and 18 points in 10 matches. In addition to Pridham, the Mustangs have five players with seven points or more, a mark that would be tops for the Titans.

The start of the Big West schedule did the Titans no favors by putting them on the road right away against two of the better squads in the conference. However, if CSUF can put together some good performances and possibly get a split or even a win and a draw over the weekend, coupled with their recent return to winning ways, it could propel the Titans forward in the rest of their Big West campaign this season.

For information on men’s soccer and all Titan Athletics, go to FullertonTitans.com

About Vincent La Rosa