Jose Trujilo (@jAy_Ay_T):
The 2016 season was one to forget.
After a season-opening win against the University of Pacific, the San Jose State men’s soccer team went on a 0-9-1 stretch leading to an abysmal 4-13-2 record on the season.
Last season couldn’t have gone a whole lot worse, but hey, you must find a way to move on, right?
Well, the Spartans appear to be doing just that.
Just six games into the 2017 season and the team has already matched half the number of wins from last year’s squad.
So, what has changed?
Well, for one, the team has benefited from an influx of new talent.
“We have 16 newcomers, which is three-quarters of our squad.” said head coach Simon Tobin. “When you got so many newcomers, it naturally brings a freshness, it invigorates everybody, it motivates.”
The returning players have noticed. Junior midfielder Andrew Mendoza who played in 17 games last season has liked what he has seen so far.
“I like the diversity, I like that people are really good individually, and very coachable, whether we need them at right back or right mid,” Mendoza said. “They are willing to step up for the team,”
Even if stepping up means to sit down, the Spartans are willing.
“Next game, I am only taking 18 to Northridge, I have a squad of 30. And first time in my career, maybe even when I was at Bakersfield for so long with some great teams, this is the first time I will have to leave real quality players… and that is a great place to be.” Tobin said.
Alongside being a deeper and more versatile club, their conditioning is much improved. Last year, the team had trouble closing games due to their fitness level. Sophomore centre back Jeffrey Dukes mentions how conditioning was a big focus during the offseason.
“We were working on our fitness level, because we thought last season we were not able to hold the fitness level until the end of the game,” he said.
Last season, in a 1-1 tie headed into the 85th minute against UTRGV, the Spartans lost gas and gave up the game-winning goal. Jeffery points to this game as evidence that the team did not have the proper conditioning to complete games.
Yet new talent and improved conditioning is only part of the improvement seen by the team. .
In 2016, the Spartans had trouble with communication and teamwork. As a team that strives to win the possession battle, the players must buy into the team first motto and leave all individual play aside, which is something they struggled with.
But this year’s team is different, they have bought into the team first mentality, and Dukes taken note.
“We are much better on the ball, and really organized compared to last year. And we are more creative on offense, and know that we need to work together in order to get the win.” He explained.
Mendoza feels the same.
“They are buying into the team, which is really good, less individual play,” he said.
Last year, it took the team 12 games to reach two wins. This year, the Spartans are already 2-4, and that includes matchups against 14th ranked Pacific, and a home opener against number one ranked and back to back defending national champions Stanford Cardinal. Not the worst start to say the least.
For the Spartans, things are starting to look bright. They have deeper roster, are better conditioned and possess a team first mentality, which is the foundation for winning. Although the season is young, and conference play is about to start, one thing is for certain: the Spartans look much improved.