MEN’S SOCCER: Byrns comeback means big things

by Staff

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While the 2007 season had all the makings of a special year for the San Diego State men’s soccer team, all of that changed in a matter of minutes in a game against future Pac-10 conference champion California.

The team had no chance to celebrate a 3-2 victory over the Golden Bears as redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Brad Byrns was diagnosed with a season-ending elbow injury he suffered in the closing minutes of the win.

“Brad was phenomenal in the net and the ultimate record of our team shows that he is a significant factor for us,” head coach Lev Kirshner said. “After he went down, we were never able to recover.”

But with 10 starters returning from a squad that has finished second in the conference for two years straight, SDSU will need more than a few bad breaks to derail their high hopes for the upcoming season.

Player to watch

Without a doubt, Aztec coaches, players and fans will have all eyes on goalkeeper Byrns, whose availability for the Sept. 5 opener against Michigan is still in limbo as he has yet to play in a preseason scrimmage. Byrns posted a record of 6-1-2 in his nine starts before being sidelined last season, and despite playing in roughly half of his team’s games, Byrns was still an honorable mention All-Pac-10 selection.

Key loss
With 10 of last season’s 11 starters returning for the upcoming year, it doesn’t take much to figure out who the team will miss the most in 2008. Top scorer Kraig Chiles, now a midfielder for Chivas USA, provided the offense with eight goals in 19 games last season.

“It’s definitely Chiles,” senior defender Dennis Sanchez said of the player the team would miss the most. “It’s always tough to replace your leading goal scorer, and we’re definitely going to approach that challenge as a team.”

Mark your calendars
When asked about the game he’s looking forward to the most, redshirt junior Daniel Ortega hardly stuttered in his response.

“Oh, it’s UCLA,” he said. “It’s always fun to play them. I’ve got a lot of family from that area, and the game itself is turning in to a pretty big rivalry.”

SDSU was unbeaten in two games against the heavily-favored Bruins, going 1-0-1 against them. This year, UCLA will be in town Saturday, Nov. 15.

Newcomer to watch
Kirshner gave a glowing review on Justin Davies, the freshman midfielder from San Diego. “He’s one of the best athletes on the field,” Kirsner said. “Once he learns more and gets more embedded with our team psyche, he’s going to be a tremendous help.”

“This is the furthest along we’ve ever been with this program than any other program I’ve coached,” Kirshner said. “It’s not just the 10 starters; it’s the 23 returners and that will hopefully make the difference to finally win us the Pac-10 title.”

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