October 12, 2012 – Back to basics. That’s what the Santa Clara men’s soccer team resorted to after a 5-3 home loss against San Jose State dropped its record to 1-4 a month ago.
Since that debacle the Broncos have won five of their last six matches (three by shutout) and allowed just three goals. They play at Portland on Friday in a first place showdown in the West Coast Conference.
Coach Cameron Rast called the San Jose loss, “a kind of coming to truth for us. We learned what it takes to be a good collegiate soccer team.”
The Broncos had just returned from a cross-country trip to Duke, where they turned in a solid performance and posted a 2-1 victory.
“We go back to Duke and we play a very good Duke team and win 2-1 because we were very committed, we worked really hard in the game, we were tough and aggressive,” Rast said. “I think at that moment, ‘Okay we’re a really good team.’ So, (the players) thought, ‘Let’s play some soccer and knock the ball around and it will work out.’ In college soccer, that’s part of it for sure, you want to be that good, but there’s got to be that element of hard work, the willingness to defend and a commitment to being tough in tackles when you need to be.”
“That was our theme of the week after San Jose State: Get back to the basics,” Rast said. “I told the team there has to be hard work and competitiveness in everything you do, so that you give yourself a chance to win games.”
The Broncos responded and went out and beat Stanford 2-1 in their next outing.
“That game really showed something,” junior centerback and co-captain Mark Daus said. “It starts from the basics. We tried to control the game from the start. We put pressure on early rather than sit back. That mentally really helped us.”
Rast called the win at Stanford a turning point in the season.
“We put in a heavy, heavy week of work, and in those moments what players really want to see is that pay off.” If it doesn’t the question still looms: ‘Are we good enough,’ he said. “When it did pay off, then they can trust the fact, if you work hard, the results will come.”
“Every week since then we’ve gotten better. But they’ve been willing to work just as hard because they feel like the investment is worth the commitment to it.”
Daus said they reaffirmed their commitment to be a better team during a player-only meeting following the San Jose State game.
“It was unacceptable,” he said of the loss.” “This isn’t the way we play. We were playing with pressure we put on ourselves.”
Rast took some of the responsibility.
He made the decision to tinker with the lineup that day and inserted some new players.
“I take blame for a lot of that result because I changed so much in between (the Duke and San Jose State) games and it felt like that didn’t give our team confidence.” he said. “In the end, I ended up staying with some of (the changes) because I do believe it was the right thing, and it’s proven itself that way.”
The Broncos have gotten stronger in the back with Daus and freshman Matt Escobar becoming a solid tandem in the center of the defense in front of senior goalkeeper Larry Jackson, “who’s been tremendous,” said Rast. “His goalkeeping and experience have been instrumental in our success.”
The coach also lauded the play of Max Ornstil a defensive midfielder, and freshman attacking midfielder Ryan Masch. He scored both goals against Stanford and the game-winner at Duke.
A big reason behind Santa Clara’s resent surge has been the sterling play of senior forward Erik Hurtado. Going into Friday’s showdown at Portland, the Beaverton, Oregon native has nine goals and two assists.
“Any time you have a player that’s special like him – that can score goals, unbalance defenses – you have a weapon,” said Rast.
Hurtado scored two first-half goals in a huge 2-1 win over San Francisco last Sunday.
“He’s been a dominating force,” said Rast after the game.
The result was important because not only was it a conference game but it came on the heels of a tough 1-0 overtime loss at St. Mary’s.
Last season, the Broncos were riding high at 6-1-3 when they suffered a loss to USF. They then went on to lose the next three conference matches, which, in all likelihood, cost them a NCAA Tournament berth.
Daus said the returning players were not about to let that happen again. The Broncos took it to USF and held on in the second half.
“Last season, we took the first few games and thought we were going to run the table and we went into a four-game skid,” he recalled. “That’s why we tried to nip it in the bud after the loss at St. Mary’s.”
“We needed to get the next one, which is the most important game of the season,” Daus added. “So, we were able to take care of that game against San Francisco. We learned we can’t be comfortable; we need to be on the attack.”
You know, the basic stuff.
Barry Punzal is a contributing writer for College Soccer News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org