Author: Benjamin DeLuca
The Occidental men’s soccer team’s bid to finish the year in the top four in SCIAC and advance to the playoffs for the first time in team history came to an end with a 1-0 loss to Cal Lutheran Monday night. The loss put the Tigers at 6-8 in SCIAC and 7-8 overall.
The Tigers are six points behind fourth place Whittier and could tie for this spot if they win their final two games and the Poets lose their final two games.
However, even in this tiebreaker situation that would account for the team’s records against the SCIAC’s top teams, Occidental would miss out on a playoff berth.
Despite this, their season saw the team improve dramatically on its performance in prior years.
“I think the addition of key freshmen and transfer students, as well as the growth of the existing players from last year, makes this year team more skilled than this point last year,” Captain Reid Sakamoto (senior) said. “Our record shows this improvement.”
Last season the Tigers finished the season with a 5-9 record in SCIAC matches and 5-13 overall. Returning players have noticed the uptick in performance this season.
“This is by far the most talented team I’ve played with since I’ve been a freshman,” Ben Grime (senior) said. “Our team has a lot of talent, and I’m confident that anyone on our roster could be on the field as one of the playing eleven.”
Head Coach Rod Lafaurie expressed excitement with the talent and fortitude of the players this year, giving credit to the whole team for stepping up to the challenge.
Rather than single out any players as the secret to the Tigers’ success, Lafaurie pointed to an increased sense of togetherness on the team, the impact of some key new arrivals and the dramatic improvement in skill from returning players.
Sakamoto noted the boost that first-years and exchange students have given the team this season. Jack Day (junior), an exchange student from London, is a powerful presence in the lineup. He had a goal and an assist in the Tigers’ thrilling 5-4 overtime victory over conference rival Whittier last Saturday.
“Jack certainly adds a different dimension to our team’s game in his understanding of the game and skill,” Sakamoto said.
Day commented on the differences between play at Occidental and in the UK. “The atmosphere is more lively, with warmup music before games and players’ names announced over the loudspeaker during lineups,” Day said. He also found the pace of play to be different here.
“The unlimited substitutions makes the pace of the game very quick and can often become frantic,” Day said.
Sakamoto also lauded goalkeeper Tristan Cooper’s (first-year) performance this season. In eight games for the Tigers, Cooper has saved seventeen of thirty shots on goal.
“Cooper has been a rock in goal for us and instills confidence in our defense,” Sakamoto said. “I could not ask more from him.”
A series of unfortunate injuries afflicted many players this season, but the quantity of talent helped the team overcome this obstacle.
Captain Doug Pentland (junior) has been limited to five games this season due to injury. Coach Lafaurie bemoaned the disproportionate effect injuries have had on the team’s back line.
“We have lost every starting back line member for large chunks of the season,” Lafaurie said. “Those players are the ones who have gotten the most injuries although other players have also picked them up.” Lafaurie added that all of the players’ injuries have been the results of in-game hits or concussions rather than occurring in practices.
Grime pointed out that the quantity of talent this season has helped the team stay afloat and exceed expectations this season. “There have been some injuries this year in crucial positions, but because our team is so deep we have had freshman, seniors and transfers step up and prove themselves,” he said.
The Tigers end their season with a week of matches playing only SCIAC opponents.
Occidental will face University of La Verne at home tonight at 7 p.m. at Jack Kemp Stadium, seeking to avenge a hard-fought 1-0 loss to the Leopards back on Sept. 29.
Additionally, the men will see their season come to an end with an away game at Chapman on Saturday. They look to sweep the most recent SCIAC member on the 2012 campaign, as they were already victorious against the Panthers on Oct. 3.
No matter what the end of the season has in store for the men’s soccer team, the players acknowledge that this season is a harbinger of good things to come in the future.
“The program is definitely headed in the right direction,” Sakamoto said.
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