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CAMPUS REPORT | CAL STATE FULLERTON / LON EUBANKS

Bright Future Helps Mistri Forget Loss

November 24, 1998|LON EUBANKS

Cal State Fullerton made an unexpectedly quick exit from the NCAA men's soccer playoffs Sunday, a seventh-seeded team upset on its home field in the first round by unranked San Diego.

Titan Coach Al Mistri was still agonizing about it Monday.

"I haven't felt this bad in a long time because we didn't fully realize our potential, even though we had a tremendous season," Mistri said.

But Mistri was able to find solace in the fact that this might be the beginning of a Fullerton run in soccer.

Of the 11 players in the Titan starting lineup Sunday, eight are freshmen or sophomores. Two are juniors. The only senior starter was midfielder Alessio Smith.

"Yes," Mistri said, "our future looks very, very bright."

This was Mistri's fifth team to reach the NCAA playoffs, and it was his youngest.

Colby Jackson, who led the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation in goals scored in the regular season with 17, is a junior. He set a school season scoring record with 42 points and fell only one goal short of tying Eddie Soto's season record of 18 set in 1994.

Sophomore Art Ramirez was nearly as effective. Ramirez ranked third in the MPSF in goals scored with 14, only one behind second-place Seth George of UCLA, and added his 15th Sunday.

They helped make the Titans the highest-scoring team in the conference with an average of 2.7 goals per game.

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The last time Fullerton had this many top young players, Major League Soccer swooped in and signed two of them--Joey DiGiamarino and Brian Dunseth--to developmental contracts two years ago.

Mistri hopes that won't happen again.

"I have no indications at this point that any of our young players will be going anywhere else, although the MLS has released or waived a large number of older players since the regular season ended," Mistri said. "But you never know. A $30,000 contract can seem like a huge amount of money to a young kid.

"But the big difference this time is there hasn't been the buzzing around about it like there was before DiGiamarino and Dunseth left. I think the MLS teams are more reluctant to take college players now than they were two years ago."

Mistri said there has been some interest shown in Jackson by the coach of a professional team in Denmark.

"But Jackson is very close to graduating, and he would be better off getting that done first," Mistri said. "He can graduate after the fall semester next year."

Mistri said he believes Jackson is the only player who might be seriously considered by the MLS at this point.

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Mistri says the key for next season will be improving on defense.

The Titans ranked first in the MPSF in scoring, but they were fourth in goals allowed--behind Stanford, Washington and UCLA.

"The problems we had Sunday against San Diego weren't because of the offense," Mistri said. "Our problem was on defense. Both of the goals San Diego scored were soft goals, goals we should have been able to do something about. But we gave up too many goals like that all season."

Some of that, Mistri said, relates to the youth and inexperience of the defenders.

The Titans also were hurt when one of their most experienced defenders, junior Rigoberto Bustos, wasn't available to play because of the accumulation of five yellow cards.

"He got his fifth in our final regular-season game at UC Irvine, so he had to sit out this one," Mistri said. "It's unfortunate that it turned out to be the most crucial game of the year."

Mistri said sophomore goaltender Sean Rockwell's inexperience also was a factor.

"We have had to ask a lot of him as a sophomore this season," he said, "but he's been progressing, and the two years of experience should help him."

Rockwell was elevated into the starting position last season as a freshman when Mike Forensich transferred to Virginia.

"The only guy on our team who had played in an NCAA playoff game before was Alessio Smith," Mistri said. "I think one of the reasons we lost Sunday was that lack of experience. It's just unfortunate that such a good season had to end on a sour note."

It was only the second time in six NCAA appearances that the Titans were beaten in the first round. Fullerton also lost its opening game to UCLA, 3-0, in 1986.

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