Morgan Maestas doesn’t need anyone to tell him about the national championship factory that is UCLA.
“It’s like a legacy – everyone knows UCLA,” Maestas said. “Even if you’re not an athlete you know what UCLA’s about. Everyone knows them. No matter who you are when you play UCLA you’re there for a reason.”
The redshirt freshman goalkeeper and the rest of the San Diego State men’s soccer team will try to make a bold statement this weekend when they travel north to take on the Bruins.
The game marks the opening of Pac-10 conference play between two big-name teams that have gotten off to slow starts. SDSU is just 2-5 to start the year while UCLA is an uncharacteristic 2-3-3.
Both teams are hungry for a win, and assistant coach Matt Hall thinks the ongoing rivalry just adds fuel to the flames.
“They’re absolutely our biggest rivals,” Hall said. “It’s a game that everyone wants to play. They’re our closest (geographical) opponent and it’s developed into a very good rivalry.”
Last Sunday’s game had the Aztecs squaring off against another premier program on the road. Despite SDSU’s 1-0 loss to then No. 18 Dartmouth, coaches and players are confident they’re coming into the conference part of their schedule playing their best soccer.
“Outside of the first couple minutes (when Dartmouth scored their lone goal) it felt really good to get a solid full game in,” Maestas said. “It helped my confidence a lot.”
That confidence is similar to the demeanor redshirt sophomore Brad Byrns has shown in goal. Byrns got off to a fast start in league play last year, lifting his team to first place in the Pac-10 before going down with injury.
“They both have tremendous work ethic and make tremendous efforts to get better,” Hall said. “It’s what will make them both successful young goalkeepers.”
Maestas sees the similarities in the mental aspect of the game only.
“Maybe psychologically we’re similar,” Maestas said. “He’s got like two or three inches on me and like 20 or 30 pounds. We have two very different styles of play.”
The team can only hope for the success it enjoyed last year with Byrns in the net, as the team went unbeaten (1-0-1) against the mighty Bruins. Hall thinks the experience gained in the preseason will only help Maestas.
“The most important thing for him is to get the experience,” Hall said. “(Last week) was a great test for him, to be on the road against a good team. The biggest thing for him and all of our goalkeepers is getting that experience and learning from our mistakes.”