By JEONG PARK
This could be it, Cal State Fullerton men’s soccer head coach George Kuntz thought.
This could be the year that Kuntz’s team finally makes it out of first round of NCAA tournament.
But the sky had other plans, it seemed like. As rain poured down on Nov. 16 in Stockton, CSUF fell 2-1 at Pacific on a muddy field, marking the Titans’ third first-round exit in four years.
“I’m gutted,” Kuntz said. “I thought (Pacific) was a good draw, but I did not know the weather condition.”
The weather conditions forced the Titans to play more direct, not relying as much on short, high-percentage passes but on longer passes that can quickly advance the ball downfield.
“With the field like that, we did not want to take any chances,” said senior midfielder Nicolo D’Amato, who studies kinesiology.
The Titans got off to a slow start in the game. Pacific had seven shots in the first 30 minutes of the game, compared to two for the Titans.
“I think Pacific came out hungry,” D’Amato said.
The Titans players struggled to get their footing without metal studs on their cleats. Because the team primarily plays in Southern California, where rain is far and few in between, it generally does not order the studs, Kuntz said.
“Every time you were going to hold something, you slip,” said redshirt junior forward Samuel Goni, who studies kinesiology. “It’s not an excuse, but it couldn’t help.”
By the time Kuntz found out about the weather, it was too late for him to order them.
“You still need to break those in,” Kuntz said. “Even if you do have them, it takes time to get used to them.”
The Titans were able to hold off Pacific in the first half, however, with the score 0-0 at the half.
But the team allowed its first goal in the 53rd minute when Pacific defender Bob Groenedijk shot the loose ball off blocks in a scrum in front of the net.
“It’s such a slick field,” Kuntz said. “Defenders had a hard time possessing it away.”
That goal sparked changes in Titans’ approach and line-up, with Kuntz replacing a defender with a forward. He would add another forward later in the game.
“We didn’t have (anything) to lose,” Goni said. “You take as many risks as you can when you are losing.”
Adding another challenge, key players such as Big West Co-Midfielder of the year Ross McPhie, a junior, had to be substituted out because of fatigue. The game was physical, and the team had only four days to recover from the Big West…