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CAL STATE NORTHRIDGE MEN'S SOCCER PREVIEW : Two Seniors Motivated by Playoff Goal


Armando Valdivia and Teddy Davila are co-captains and probably the best players on the Cal State Northridge soccer team.

They are intelligent, dedicated and immensely talented, according to their teammates and coaches.

They also carry an extra burden as they enter their senior seasons: They are the only four-year players in Coach Marwan Ass'ad's 10 seasons as coach who have not competed in an NCAA playoff match.

Northridge has 10 consecutive winning seasons, but the past three--the Matadors' first at the NCAA Division I level of competition--have ended without a postseason bid.

"They want a great year at Northridge before they leave," said Ass'ad, whose team will open Saturday at 7 p.m. with a match against Cal State Dominguez Hills at North Campus Stadium. "They're out of chances."

Valdivia, a 5-foot-8 forward, is being touted as an All-American candidate after earning third-team All-Far West Region honors last season. He was co-leader of the Matadors with 10 goals and was second on the team with five assists and 25 points.

Davila, a 5-10 midfielder, is a three-year starter who last season received honorable mention on the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation all-conference team.

A year ago, Valdivia played midfield alongside Davila.

For his senior campaign, Valdivia has been shifted to forward where Ass'ad expects him to take best advantage of his offensive skills.

"He is so explosive and great with the ball. His control and passes are excellent," Ass'ad said of Valdivia. "Everyone is so sure this is best for us."

Valdivia played forward at Burroughs High in Ridgecrest, where he scored 98 goals and had 49 assists in four years, placing him eighth on the all-time state scoring list.

"I like forward," Valdivia said. "I played it before. I'll play wherever I'm needed, and I think the team is better with me there."

But whether Valdivia becomes the scoring threat Ass'ad envisions might depend on the play of others. Keith West, who will start in the forward spot opposite Valdivia, must play well to lessen the pressure on his teammate.

West has not played soccer since 1990, when he scored 16 goals and had 12 assists for Kennedy High. The season before, West was selected City Section player of the year after scoring 19 goals with 14 assists in leading the Golden Cougars to the City championship.

The past two years, West was a receiver on the Glendale College football team. Last season, he was a second-team All-Western State Conference selection after catching 27 passes for 262 yards and two touchdowns.

"You can't get by with one scorer," Ass'ad said. "I like Keith West. He's a hard worker, he's intelligent and he's aggressive."

Joining West and Valdivia on the starting offense will be midfielders Yared Gebreyesus, a sophomore from Ethiopia, and Sarkis Banyan, a freshman from Glendale High.

Opposite Davila on defense will be Matt Davis, a transfer from Eastern Illinois. Also playing defense are Ron Lou, a sophomore from Villa Park; Ross Linhart, a sophomore from Hacienda Heights Wilson; Todd Biefeld, a senior from Orange Coast College, and Brandt Marott, a sophomore from Clovis High in Fresno. Goalie Louie Mata is a senior who last season made 56 saves and had a 1.52 goals-against average.

Northridge, 10-8 last season, must finish first or second in the MPSF's Pacific Division to earn a berth in the conference's postseason tournament and have a realistic chance at a berth in the 32-team NCAA playoffs.

UCLA, Cal State Fullerton, New Mexico and an improved Nevada Las Vegas team are expected to provide the stiffest competition for the Matadors.

Whether Northridge--and Valdivia and Davila--can qualify will depend on the Matadors' success away from the friendly confines of North Campus Stadium. In the past 10 years, Northridge is 80-10-9 at home. Last season, the Matadors were 9-2 on their turf, 1-6 on the road.

After the Dominguez Hills match, Northridge will play host to Master's College on Monday. Then comes a string of eight consecutive matches on the road to close out September.

"We either win on the road, or we can pack it in this month," Ass'ad said. "If we don't win in September, our backs would be against the wall."

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