Aztec men’s soccer season due for a change of fortune

After a rough start to the season, there are signs of hope for this young SDSU men’s soccer team.

Aztec+freshman+Tristan+Viviani+prepares+to+pass+the+ball+during+SDSUs+5-0+victory+over+UNLV+on+Sept.+9th%2C+2022+at+the+SDSU+Sports+Deck.

Aztec freshman Tristan Viviani prepares to pass the ball during SDSU’s 5-0 victory over UNLV on Sept. 9th, 2022 at the SDSU Sports Deck.

by Morgan Prickett, Sports Editor

After three consecutive losses to start the season, “the No.1 recruiting class in the nation” as branded by Top Drawer Soccer, was not off to the most promising start.

The young Aztec team featuring 15 new additions (11 freshman and four transfers) were placed with targets on their backs before the season had even commenced. Not only was the expectations of their Top Drawer Soccer rankings a potential distraction, but with a team that is filled with so many new players it is  bound to take time to build chemistry.

In the teams’ opening six matches, Head Coach Ryan Hopkins has created different lineups in each game in hopes of finding his perfect starting 11.

Now, recent results against nationally ranked teams may be an indicator that this Aztec squad is finally putting the pieces together and building the chemistry they need to wreak havoc in the PAC-12 this season.

Back-to-back disappointing 2-1 losses opened the Aztecs’ season. 

The first loss of the season marked the Aztecs first non-conference loss in nine games, going undefeated since October of 2019. A second-half goal for California State University, Northridge junior Jack Rhead sent the Aztecs packing back to San Diego.

The Aztecs second loss of the season ended in heartbreaking fashion. With the Aztecs going into the 81st minute with a 1-0 lead, things were looking good for the Aztecs to secure their first win of the season at their home-opener. But two goals in the final 10 minutes gave Loyola Marymount University the win and left the Aztecs with a gut-wrenching defeat.

Coach Hopkins stayed optimistic, knowing that there’s “painful lessons along the way.” 

“We have so much potential, it just takes a couple tough ones to take us where we need to go,” Hopkins said after the defeat.

The Aztecs third loss of the season came against University of Nebraska, Omaha in a 1-0 defeat. Another close game, the Aztecs again fell to a late goal in the last 10 minutes of the match.

After the 0-3 start, the Aztecs then faced the statistically best opponent they had played so far. The Aztecs stayed in Omaha for a three-day turn around to face No. 7 Creighton and it took a fight to prevent their fourth loss of the season. 

Creighton threw two early punches, scoring 37 seconds into the match and again in the 27th minute to take a 2-0 lead. 

But Aztec freshman CJ Fodrey, who has already made a name for himself locally with the San Diego Loyal, led an Aztecs comeback. Fodrey scored once in the 38th minute and then once again in the 57th. The Aztecs almost went full-circle to take the win in the 85th minute, but Fodrey saw his potential hat trick and game-winning shot flick off the post and back to the Creighton goalkeeper.

The Aztecs then took the energy they ended with during the tie and channeled it into the start of their next match. The Aztecs dominated the University of Nevada, Las Vegas 5-0 to finally earn their first win of the season on Friday, Sept. 9. The five goal victory is the most by SDSU since Aug. 30, 2013 (5-0 vs. No. 16 University of San Diego).

The Aztecs dominated the game from start to finish, having five different players score while managing to keep a clean sheet.

“We felt we can score in a lot of ways and we can score in bunches,” Hopkins said. “So we feel if our defense is good and we’re getting those clean sheets, we’re gonna be really really hard to beat.”

The Aztecs then met their biggest test of the season so far. No. 6 Denver came strolling into town, and not only did this game provide a chance for the players to prove themselves but also a chance for Hopkins to prove himself against his former team. 

“It’s a special moment for me personally, obviously, I spent five years there as an assistant,” said Hopkins. 

The moment became even more special for Hopkins when the Aztecs took home a 2-1 victory against Denver at the SDSU Sports Deck. 

Two goals by junior Elias Katsaros lifted the Aztecs above Denver. The two goals also required Katsaros to lift himself off the ground as he flew into the air to header both goals in.

“It’s the new boots for sure,” Katsaros jokingly said when asked what contributed to his leaping ability during the game. 

Katsaros has scored three goals in the two games he has played so far this season, all coming from defense. Before he scored against UNLV during the 5-0 victory, Katsaros had only attempted one shot for the Aztecs during the entirety of his previous two seasons. 

The results versus Creighton and Denver marked the first time since the 2009 season where the Aztecs have earned a result against two top 10 teams in the same week.

After going the first three games without a win, the Aztecs are now undefeated in their last three games. Coach Hopkins believes that the adversity the team faced early on has strengthened the team and will allow for them to “peak at the right time.”

“We’ve won some good games not playing our best soccer,” Hopkins said. “I think there’s still more from this group and we’re just going to continue getting better and hope we can peak right around PAC-12 and postseason time.”

The Aztecs have indeed begun to peak at the right time as next they will play the University of California, Berkeley to open up their PAC-12 season on Thursday, Sept. 15th.