The way last season ended for The Master’s University men’s soccer team still irks the players.
After scoring a goal in the first 16 seconds of the Golden State Athletic Conference semifinal against Arizona Christian University, the Mustangs let two goals slip by them, ending in a 2-1 defeat and dashing hopes of returning to the NAIA national tournament.
But instead of dwelling on the loss, the team is using it as motivation.
“That loss really hurt us. We think about it because Arizona Christian, since my sophomore year we haven’t beaten that team,” said starting centre back Justin Ikeora. “We still remember and use it as motivation to win conference.”
“That moment would not have happened if we beat Jessup because we would have gotten first in the conference and skipped those games,” said starting center midfielder Luis Garcia Sosa. “So this year, we’re taking every game at a time. If you can win every conference game you’re into the round of 16 automatically.”
Several key seniors graduated from last year’s team, including the top two goal scorers Trevor Mangan and Benji Tembo. Mangan was on the All-GSAC team last year and Tembo was the GSAC Player of the Year the past two seasons.
The Mustangs will look to returning veterans, like Garcia Sosa and Dylan Bielanski, plus the addition of some newcomers to help shoulder the scoring load. Ikeora can also play up top and is a key contributor on set pieces.
“Obviously last year we lost a lot of our goal-scoring output with Trevor and Benji and Leo (Anjos),” said TMU head coach Jim Rickard. “We need Dylan to do what he was doing and Luis, he was arguably the MVP of the team. Luis had a great year last year so we need that again, and some of the new guys to kick in with that group as well.”
Two freshmen who could make an immediate impact are Steve Banda and Prince Chingancheke, who are both from Malawi. Armando Torres, a junior who played two years at Fullerton College, will be a key factor in the midfield.
“Midfield-wise with Luis and a new player named Steven and Armando, they are both very talented. Look for those three, they need to anchor the offense,” Rickard said. “Up top, Prince is new, he’s young but really talented. The deal will be durability, once he’s getting assists and goals he’s going to start getting beat up, and he’s going to get goals and assists. The kid is very talented.”
Garcia Sosa, who scored nine goals and assisted on 11 others last season, will be the glue that holds the team together.
As the starting center mid, Garcia Sosa will be utilized all over the field and will be relied upon to score, set up his teammates and also drop back and play sound defense.
Additionally, with only five seniors on the team, he will be taking on more of a leadership role this season.
“I feel like it’s a big responsibility for myself and Justin as well and Cameron (Molyneux) because we’re the only players left from that team,” Garcia Sosa said. “Six new starters, so we definitely have to show them the way and what coach wants and our tactics. It’s a big step in the leadership part for myself.”
Rickard believes the conference as a whole has improved tremendously this year, and with a lot of new faces on the team, it could take some time for the Mustangs to gel.
It’s important that the team continues to develop chemistry in practice and during scrimmages before the season begins with the Westmont Tournament on Friday, where TMU will face off against Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. A week later, the Mustangs will face off against No. 18 ranked Kansas Wesleyan University at home.
“I feel like all the teams in the conference are up, it’s just one of those years,” Rickard said. “I’m excited about the team, I feel like we’ve got good kids at each level, we need some of the new guys to get up to speed rather quickly. I feel like they are working hard and they are excited and ready to go.”
While it will take some time to get the new players acclimated, the Mustangs will do their part by continuing to practice and play hard each and every time they are on the pitch.
“Our strength is our work ethic, that has to stay there,” Ikeora said. “We aren’t going to be outworked, that’s our motto.”