Depending on whom you favor, the winner of tonight's Cal State Northridge-UCLA game will have either bragging rights or the distinction of being the best soccer team in the West.
Even though the meeting is only a scrimmage between the West Coast's best NCAA Division I and Division II teams, the Matadors believe that a win over the Bruins, combined with a standing-room-only crowd--North Campus Stadium seats 5,500--will be the first step toward credibility and perhaps respectability.
You'd think that the Matadors would have gained that last season. Consider: They were 18-3-2, won their first California Collegiate Athletic Assn. crown and reached the second round of the Division II playoffs.
The Matadors' average attendance was more than 1,000, but players and coaches are waiting for tonight's scrimmage (7:30 p.m., admission free) to see if the Valley's interest in its home-grown talent will continue this season. Twenty-two of the 25 players attended Valley high schools.
"Saturday is a major event," said Matador Assistant Coach James Stevenson. "We are on a treadmill through oblivion right now. If we don't make it big Saturday, we're back another year."
The Matadors are a long shot against the Bruins, who ranked sixth last year (19-3-2) in Division I and reached the semifinals of the NCAA tournament.
Matador Coach Marwan Ass'ad said there may be an added incentive for his team. He said many of his players initially wanted to attend UCLA but were turned away.
Tonight's game against the Bruins could be an early indicator to Ass'ad of how his team stacks up against Division I talent. The Matadors will play eight Division I teams this year, including San Diego State on Sept. 13; University of Nevada-Las Vegas on Sept. 14; United States International University on Sept. 28 and Brigham Young on Nov. 7.
Leading the offensive attack against UCLA will be the Matadors' usual workhorses: captain mid-fielder Mike McAndrew and forwards John Tronson and Dean Freeman.
Ass'ad said he will look to Tronson, the CCAA most valuable player last season, to be effective with his heading. He said that Tronson possesses the intelligence and size (6-4) to be unstoppable.
"We'll be looking forward to breaking down the wings and getting the ball to John," Ass'ad said.
Questionable for tonight's game is former Glendale College All-American goalkeeper Phil Heaver, who jammed his right ring finger in practice this week. That could give the starting job to last year's starter, Gary Wolfe, or junior college transfers Mike Caputo or Mark Grody.