Though the season wrapped up for Cal State Fullerton men’s soccer, the 2017 Big West Champions didn’t let that stop them from seeking serious competition.
CSUF pumped up its level of play for its chosen opponent when it faced professional soccer club Toronto FC on Monday Jan. 29.
After a three month hiatus from the pitch following the end of their season in November, the Titans had only trained for five days prior to the game.
CSUF took a rough 7-1 loss in the friendly match. However, Head Coach George Kuntz said the loss served as a rather rude awakening to bring the men back to Earth after taking the Big West title.
“It was ugly, but it was fantastic. Our guys looked at it like the World Cup, and their guys looked at it like a scrimmage,” Kuntz said.
Although the match wasn’t the first time Fullerton and Toronto met on the same field, the rare opportunity to face the MLS champions gave the Titans a chance to blur the line of their college team status.
For Cal State Fullerton defender Irving Arvizu, the game meant much more than getting an opportunity to face national stars.
“You have to love the grind. Everyone is putting in really hard work to earn their starting spot in the fall,” Arvizu said. “It’s always good to get a lot of games in, you don’t want to go lacking games heading into the fall especially when other teams are getting their games in. You always want to be ready.”
Professional stars like Michael Bradley, Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore may have had the Titans a bit starstruck, but CSUF midfielder Christian Pinzon said their rank as professionals was void because they were all there for the same thing.
“It was kind of intimidating, but at the end of the day, they’re soccer players and we’re soccer players,” Pinzon said.
The Titans also tested out new bonds as they rotated three different starting lines in periods of 45, 25 and 25 minutes to ensure no member of the CSUF roster could miss class, otherwise they would face suspension.
These rotations served as a new challenge, especially for Titans goalie and 2017 Big West Tournament MVP Paul-Andre Guerin, who had to adjust to new faces early.
“I think that we need to know each other. It’s good to practice with each other, but the reality is in the games,” Guerin said.
Despite the changes, CSUF made the best of each of its players individual skills.
“People that come off the bench – they each have something special to contribute. We just try to incorporate that into how we’re playing,” Pinzon said. “Friendlies don’t have a point to them, but knowing our team and our coaches, we want to take each game seriously, so we’re taking these as practice before season.”
Although it was a tough loss, Kuntz didn’t let the Titans dwell on their defeat.
The Titans have started working on missed points they had against Toronto in hopes that they will have a better outcome when they face more professional teams this spring, an opportunity Kuntz said is going to get the Titans in good shape going into the new season.
“They have at least five national team players, and our guys are playing against them. If you can beat, or play or compete against those guys, you can compete against anybody and that’s the message I want to send,” Kuntz said.
Now that the Titans have taken a good look at a potential career in professional soccer, Kuntz said the defeat also served as a reflection for how much room the players have to grow.
“When you have a game like that, that chops you down a little bit and brings you back to reality and says ‘Oh wow. This is the gap I have to close to get to that level,’” Kuntz said. “It was a good reality check for us. It was probably the best medicine we could have after a season like that.”