Cal State Northridge, which won its fourth consecutive California Collegiate Athletic Assn. soccer title and finished the regular season as the top-ranked team in Division II, will have a first-round bye in the NCAA playoffs that begin Saturday. The Matadors (17-1-1) will play next week in the quarterfinals against the winner of the game between two-time defending national champion Seattle-Pacific (17-1-4, ranked 5th) and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (11-4-2, 15th).
CSUN is led by forward Joey Kirk, who was named CCAA player of the year Tuesday. Kirk, a senior forward, has 30 goals and 16 assists. Juan Florez (nine goals and nine assists) and Thor Lee (eight goals and 10 assists) also were named to the all-conference first team.
The Matadors, who closed out the regular season with a 5-0 win over Chapman, have scored 29 goals in their past four games.
"I'm confident because of the last two weeks," Coach Marwan Ass'ad said. "The team rhythm and trust is better than ever. We're playing aggressively and finishing our chances. You can see it on the fans' faces after the game. They're stunned."
Ass'ad knows that look because he has worn it in each of the past three years after a quarterfinal playoff loss ended the Matadors' season. In 1984, CSUN lost to Missouri-St. Louis, 3-2. In 1985 and '86 the Matadors lost to Seattle-Pacific, 3-2 and 2-1.
"We're more balanced with speed experience this year," Ass'ad said. "We can go through midfield, to the forwards, from the wings."
This season, the NCAA is holding a Final Four tournament Dec. 4-6. The semifinalist that can provide the best playing field and the biggest crowds will play host to the tournament.
"We haven't had a real successful Final Two in terms of interest," said Will Lotter, chairman of the tournament selection committee. "The crowds and the interest have not been that great. The No. 1 priority is the best playing facility. And as much as we hate to 1650794608thing, it is a problem for our division just like it is all the rest."
The natural grass field at North Campus Stadium and crowds that are among the largest in college soccer make CSUN an attractive host should it reach the Final Four. To get there, the Matadors will have to get by Seattle-Pacific, which has won three of the past four championship games, or San Luis Obispo, which CSUN tied, 2-2, and beat, 8-1, this season.
Lee, like most of his teammates, prefers Seattle-Pacific.
"It's always fun to play them although it's always been a negative outcome," Lee said. "I thought we were the best team in the nation the last two years, but we didn't play well against them. We want to play them and beat them convincingly so there's no doubt."
Other first-round matchups include: Central Region--Missouri plays St. Louis (15-3-1, third) at Oakland University in Michigan (14-6-1, ninth). In a battle of Pennsylvania schools, East Stroudsburg (15-4, seventh) visits Lock Haven (9-5-5, 12th).
Northeast Region--Southern Connecticut State (14-1-3, 6th) has a bye. New Hampshire College (13-4-2, fourth) visits C.W. Post (12-6-2, 11th).
South Region--Tampa (15-2-1, ranked second) and the Florida Institute of Technology (11-3-2, eighth) both have first-round byes and will meet in the quarterfinals.