Men’s soccer opens conference play with lofty expectations

The team’s hot start gives hope for deep playoff run


Jordan Latimore

Men’s soccer head coach Michael Linenberger leads his team in practice Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, at the Hornet Practice Field. Sac State is hunting a return to the Big West Tournament as well as an NCAA Tournament berth.

Isaac Streeter

For the past few years, the Sacramento State Men’s soccer team has been nothing to write home about. Their last Big West Conference playoff appearance was in 2017. The most recent winning season came in 2016 when they finished just one game above a .500 winning percentage. Their last NCAA tournament appearance came over a decade ago in 2010. 

This year, however, something has awoken from men’s soccer head coach Michael Linenberger’s team and the expectations are through the roof. 

“Our expectations are to finish in the top two, get a first-round bye and host a semi-final game,”  Linenberger said ahead of conference play that began on Wednesday, Sept. 28.

Through the first nine games of the season the Hornets have already exceeded last season’s win total, currently sitting at 6-2-2 and a seven-game unbeaten streak spanning from the second game of the season to the eighth. 

The key to this season’s success? According to the team’s leading scorer, junior midfielder Francisco Magaña, it is the team’s age and experience.

“A lot of it has to do with the older guys we have now. Being younger, we didn’t have a lot of successful seasons,” Magaña said. “We learned a lot and took ownership of our mistakes.”

Team captain and three-year starter Jaime Robles echoed the sentiment of growth from failure and improvement in the team’s mental fortitude. 

“We’re starting to finish games, scoring goals and not having guys turning off and making errors,” Robles said.

Even with improvements, the team is yet to be completely free of mental errors. After drawing just three red cards the whole 2021 season, the team has already matched the total through nine games. Linenberger says maintaining aggression and situational awareness when playing with a first strike yellow is paramount moving forward.

“Obviously we’re not proud of [the red cards]]… We need to be more mature in that area,” Linenberger said.  

Despite the drastic shift in performance, Linenberger says not much has changed in the day-to-day of how the team practices, but new hires in the coaching staff like former Sac State and Sac Republic FC player Max Alvarez have given the team new life offensively. 

Alvarez has taken over the duties of offensive set piecing and the change has been noticeable. The Hornets averaged 1.17 goals per game last year. This year, the number has jumped to 1.78.

Transfers have also given the team a new edge of what it takes to compete at high levels of collegiate soccer, not just on the field but off it, according to Linenberger.

Junior midfielder Cody Sundquist and junior forward Austin Wehner of UCLA and San Diego State respectively, have both played huge roles for Sac State and already combine for four points on the year. Another transfer, sophomore forward Dominic Vegaalban from Santa Clara, has only appeared in three contests so far this season but has averaged 76.3 minutes of play and picked up two goals in those games. 

That being said, the biggest get for the team may have come from within the program itself. After taking a redshirt year in 2021, redshirt freshman goalkeeper Edgar Guerra has burst onto the scene.

“Edgar is a great keeper. He’s young and has a lot on his plate,” Robles said. “He’s stepped up and he’s a tank.”

Picking up Big West Freshman of the Week honors for the week of Sept. 12, Guerra played all 90 minutes in contests against LMU and Gonzaga. With 30 shots taken against him, Guerra only allowed three goals to help Sac State earn wins in both matches. 

While early season non-conference play successes are to be celebrated,  team members emphasized focus for the future. According to Robles, getting comfortable is not on the table.

“‘We can’t be complacent,” Robles said. “Having a successful non-conference can get in your head, I know a lot of the guys are real focused and locked in and can’t wait to show what we got.”

What Linenberger believes his team has in its fold is more than a Big West Playoff appearance, but their first NCAA Tournament berth in over a decade. 

“I feel that the team we have this year is the best team we’ve had since 2009 and 2010,I feel there are a lot of similarities in the groups,from experience, talent, depth, et cetera,” Linenberg said. “here is [an] expectation to get back to the NCAA tournament this year.”With conference play beginning with a 1-0 win over CSU Bakersfield on

Wednesday, Sept. 28, the hunt for Sac State’s return to the NCAA Tournament is on.