The journey to another NCAA Tournament continues for Men’s Soccer in the offseason

Laukoa+Santos+celebrating+a+goal+with+head+coach+Ryan+Hopkins+against+Stanford+%28Courtesy+of+SDSU+Athletics%29.

SDSU Athletics

Laukoa Santos celebrating a goal with head coach Ryan Hopkins against Stanford (Courtesy of SDSU Athletics).

by Juan Daniel Avila, Senior Staff Writer

It’s Senior Night for San Diego State men’s soccer at the SDSU Sports Deck. Usually, the team gets around 150 spectators but on this particular night, more than 1,000 spectators have taken over the stands.

Fans aren’t only there to see the two lone seniors Laukoa Santos and Tevenn Roux perform they are here to see if the Aztecs can beat the UCLA Bruins on their last game of the season, a game which would decide whether the Aztecs would go to the NCAA Tournament or stay home.

Ninety minutes later, the final whistle blows and the scoreboard reads: UCLA 4, Aztecs 1. The end of a historic winning season has finally come to an end for the Aztecs and, as head coach, Ryan Hopkins recalls, it was an odd night full of interesting situations.

“We have definitely played a lot worse in other games,” Hopkins said. “We made some pretty catastrophic errors things that you would probably see once every five years we happen to do two of them in one night.”

Although the Aztecs weren’t able to win their last game of the season, their fighting characteristics stood out on paper. They outshot the Bruins 13-8 and got 15 corners to UCLA’s two.

Hopkins highlighted that they won every stat on the scoreboard except the most important one: goals. 

“If you were to look at just the stats from that game, you probably would have thought we won that game,” Hopkins said.

Regardless of how the season ended, Hopkins said the team had a lot of other good things going on.

This included having a winning season for the first time in a decade, staying undefeated in nonconference games for the first time in 20 years, being highly ranked by the Associated Press for the first time since 2016, having two players on the All-Pac-12 first team for the first time in program history and Santos being called up for the MLS College Showcase.

For emphasis, only three other players from the Pac-12 got invited.

Hopkins gives credit to both the difficulty of the conference and SDSU’s tough schedule. SDSU played No. 1 Oregon State and No. 2 Washington a combination of four times this season.

Washington lost in the NCAA College Cup Final, and Oregon State lost in the quarter-finals of the tournament. They both had one opponent in common as well: 2021 NCAA National Champion Clemson.

“Overall, we are really happy with the progress. We are really really excited for the future. At the same time, we want even more and expect even more,” Hopkins said. “But I think that’s a good place to be.” 

The Aztecs return to the training grounds in late January to get ready for their spring season in which Hopkins said they are taking a different approach than normal.

Usually, the Aztecs would play other college teams in their spring season but this year they are playing professional clubs that call for some interesting game match-ups that the program has not yet seen. 

Two teams from the MLS, one from the Liga MX, and one from the USL Championship.

Professional clubs on the SDSU’s fixtures include: San Diego Loyal SC, LA Galaxy, Vancouver Whitecaps FC, and U-23 Club Tijuana Xoloitzcuitles de Caliente.

“I think a lot of our guys have professional aspirations, so it’s a good opportunity to put themselves in front of these coaches. It’s a good opportunity to compare themselves against these guys that are pros,” Hopkins said. “It’s also a good opportunity for us to learn from a lot of adversity.”

Hopkins said these games will be tough and they are probably going to trail during games to these teams but it’s definitely going to be a good test for the program as they build up to next fall season, which will feature some games in the new Snapdragon Stadium.

The team’s goals remain somewhat the same. Make it to the NCAA tournament but this time the goal would be to win a game in the tournament.

“I think that’s something that is very achievable,” Hopkins said. “I think we are building a team that is prepared for knock-off football. We just have to make sure that we can navigate the Pac-12 schedule and finish off some of these close games and I think we can be in a good situation once we are in the tournament we can do a lot of damage for sure.”

Hopkins said he was appreciative of the fan’s support this season. He hopes to keep continuing to grow that support while making the SDSU Sports Deck one of the hardest places to play in the country alongside Snapdragon Stadium and Viejas Arena.