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Soto Brings Some Glitter to Cal State Fullerton Soccer

October 21, 1994|LON EUBANKS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

FULLERTON — Eddie Soto grew up wanting to play soccer for UCLA, not Cal State Fullerton.

With the movie star good looks of a Keanu Reeves or an Andy Garcia, Soto could have fit right in amid the glitter of Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Bel Air.

But when things didn't go as planned, Soto's world was turned upside down.

UCLA certainly had shown interest in him. He had been Southern Section Division 3-A player of the year at Cerritos High School. Soto and his close friend, Jorge Salcedo, had talked often about how they would be UCLA teammates.

But when it came time for it to happen, Soto failed to qualify academically. Salcedo went to UCLA, and Soto was left behind.

"I was devastated," Soto said. "Jorge and I had been playing soccer together since we were 5. I was so disappointed that I thought about giving up the game entirely."

With his soccer future uncertain, Soto enrolled at Chapman. He didn't play his first year there in 1990, but he heard all about how UCLA won the national championship, and about how in the NCAA final Salcedo had scored the winning goal on a penalty kick. "You can imagine how I felt that year," Soto said. "It was hard, knowing how you could have been there."

But Soto picked himself up, played one season at Chapman, then transferred to Cal State Fullerton with three years of eligibility remaining. Soto brought immediate life to the Titans, who were struggling for recognition.

"In a lot of ways, Eddie put our program on the map," Coach Al Mistri said. "He was a player that the soccer community in our area knew well. He had been a phenomenal player in high school, and had played on a national championship under-19 team at Huntington Beach."

Mistri recruited Soto out of high school, but couldn't compete with what Soto saw as "the glamour" of UCLA.

"At that time, I didn't think Fullerton's soccer program was what I wanted," Soto said. "And the way I looked at it, you could get a lot of recognition at UCLA because it was UCLA."

But the Fullerton program improved during Soto's two years at Chapman, and he eventually decided he could be the difference for the Titans.

"Any striker has to have a good supporting cast to be successful, and he had that," Mistri said. "But Eddie became the catalyst for us. . . . And what I told him would happen with the program, has happened."

As a sophomore, Soto had 12 goals in 39 shots, with eight assists, and was named second team All-American.

He didn't fare as well statistically as a junior with eight goals in 46 shots, but Soto helped the team turn the corner. Fullerton reached the NCAA final four by winning playoff games at Fresno State, San Diego and San Francisco. The Titans, however, lost to South Carolina, 1-0, in the semifinals. Soto was only an honorable mention All-American selection. Mistri recalls him missing four penalty kicks during that season.

The successful sophomore season and his solid junior year made Soto a marked man.

"It's a difficult position to be in," Mistri said. "I have a lot of admiration for the way he puts himself on the line every time he goes out there. He's really been roughed up a lot this season, too. . . . The word has gotten around that the way to play him is to mark him hard."

Opponents' rough play, however, hasn't caused Soto as much problem as illness has during his senior season.

"He came to camp in the best shape he's ever been in," Mistri said. "He was bubbly, ready to go. He got married this summer, and I think that helped settle him down. And he seemed a lot more focused. But he's run into some bad luck."

Soto has gone from one illness to another.

"I had some problems with tendinitis at the end of last season, and I took an anti-inflammatory for that," he said. "But that created some small erosions in my stomach. I got over that, and then I had trouble with heat exhaustion for a period of time. I woke up in the middle of the night really sick and dizzy with a high fever. Then I had stomach flu for a while. Then, if you can believe it, last Friday I had a small case of food poisoning."

All this in the span of a few months.

Despite the problems, Soto has shown flashes of brilliance. He had five goals in three consecutive games in mid-September, scoring twice against New Hampshire and Vermont. For the season, he has seven goals in 30 shots along with one assist. He leads the team in points.

The Titans have six regular season games remaining before the Mountain Pacific Soccer Federation playoffs. Fullerton plays at UCLA today. Soto's friend, Salcedo, has finished his UCLA career, but it still is a game Soto eagerly awaits. "I've never scored against them, and I'd like to be able to do that," he said.

But there are no burning regrets now about not being at UCLA.

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