Chivas USA defender Zarek Valentin has made his calls, set up his meetings, even gone to the online maps to chart the best path to Cal State Northridge.
Mighty Akron is in town, and the former Zips star -- he won the NCAA Division I title with them last December in Goleta -- is, to say the least, pumped.
The defending champs take on Cal State Fullerton on Thursday afternoon at 4:30 and Cal State Northridge on Saturday night at 7 in the Matadors' annual tournament, and it's a treat for Southern California soccer fans.
Akron, 91-13-10 in five years (plus last week's season-opening win over Cleveland State) since Caleb Porter took charge, plays the game the right way: on the floor, with style, verve and attacking know-how. It should have brought the Zips successive NCAA crowns, but Virginia toppled them on penalties following a 0-0 draw in the 2009 final.
Valentin was one of seven Akron players taken in January's Major League Soccer draft, one of five selected among the first eight picks, one of three taken with the first four selections. He's hoping to offer his perspective this week to his former teammates and the program's large, talented freshman class.
“Hopefully, I can take some of the guys who are in my class out to maybe Santa Monica or something like that for a nice dinner,” he said Wednesday. “Just kind of show them a little bit of, I guess, my lifestyle. Because I think we have a bunch of potential pros in the [Akron] team, because it's a good group. Hopefully, they start out following the right foot.
“Hopefully, I can talk to the team and just give them a little bit of insight, you know, my experience and how they need to live it up in college and enjoy it and play with a smile on your face.”
Valentin, 20, left Akron after his sophomore year, and Chivas made him the fourth overall selection. He's started 21 games in an up-and-down rookie campaign, most at right back but several in the center earlier this year. Give him a couple of years -- his potential is immense.
His Chivas teammates Blair Gavin and Ben Zemanski, who left Akron a year before Valentin, also plan to stop by Matador Soccer Field. Valentin notes that they “want to get out and see who the Blair Gavin [and Ben Zemanski are] of this cycle.”
Does he want to see this year's version of Zarek Valentin?
“I have my eyes out,” he said. “I think the guy who took my spot in Bryan Gallego. Apparently, he's quite a good player.”
Apparently, he is. Gallego, a freshman from New Jersey, captained the U.S. under-18 national team, is in the U-20 pool and was captain of his team for three years in the New York Red Bulls' academy.
“So, I guess he's a pretty good player ...,” Valentin said. “Hopefully, he's not better than me. But if he is, then they'll be good, and I'll be happy.”
Akron, which in October will visit UC Santa Barbara for a nationally televised game, is No. 2 in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll and No. 3 in Soccer America's rankings, and that might be high. Porter needs to rebuild after losing so much top talent, although reload might be more like it. Darren Mattocks has star quality, and, Valentin notes, “guys who were role players in last year's group, they're key players this year.”
And he can't wait to watch them.
“I'll see the first game,” he said. “Then on Friday I hope to see some of my teammates, spend some more time with them. ... I might even get a cot and stay at the hotel one of the nights.”
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Lynn Williams scored in the final minute to force overtime and again in the extra period to carry hot-starting Pepperdine (4-0-0) to a 2-1 victory at Cal State Fullerton.
ETC.: UCLA's Sydney Leroux is the Pac-12 women's Player of the Week after scoring in wins over Tennessee and Florida. ... UC Irvine's Natalia Ledezma (La Mirada/La Mirada HS) was the Big West Conference's women's Offensive Player of the Week. The Anteaters swept the men's awards, with Christian Hernandez (Palmdale/Palmdale HS) claiming the offensive honor and goalkeeper Andrew Fontein the defensive nod. UC Riverside's Kayde Hensley is the Big West won the women's defensive award. ... NCAA Division II and III teams begin play this week.
RANKINGS: UCLA's women made the biggest jump in week 1, from No. 15 in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America's preseason poll to No. 6 following victories in Tennessee's tournament.
Here's a list of local teams in the NSCAA rankings. The Division I polls are current, the others are preseason.
9. UC Santa Barbara
14. UC Irvine
Nos. 1-3: Louisville, Akron and North Carolina
14. UC Irvine
Receiving votes: Loyola Marymount
Nos. 1-3: North Carolina, Stanford and Maryland
Receiving votes: Cal State San Bernardino
No. 1: Northern Kentucky
23. Cal State L.A.
Nos. 1-2: Grand Valley State and UC San Diego
No. 1: Messiah
No. 1: Hardin-Simmons
Soccer America's rankings, generally more trustworthy than the NSCAA's, has UCLA's men at No. 6 and Santa Barbara at No. 8. The magazine's women's rankings include No. 4 UCLA, No. 16 UCI, No. 21 Loyola Marymount and No. 25 Pepperdine.
The NAIA coaches' preseason top 25s include, for the men, No. 4 Vanguard and No. 12 Azusa Pacific, and, in the women's poll, No. 2 Azusa Pacific, No. 9 The Master's and No. 20 Concordia.