GOLDEN STATE ATHLETIC CONFERENCE
Azusa Pacific (Azusa): The Cougars (16-3-0 in 2009) knew NAIA All-America first-team defender Eric Winblad, a two-time GSAC Player of the Year, had to move on, but the departure of forward Cito Soriano (10-goals-12 assists), an All-America first-teamer who left school, was a surprise. APU, which won the 2007 NAIA title after falling in the 2005 and 2006 title games, starts the season at No. 13 in the rankings, and second-year coach Dave Blomquist will want to improve on last year's GSAC-semifinal finish. Two all-conference players return: Brazilian forward Vinicius Dantos (12 goals) and midfielder Brett Taylor (Oaks Christian HS). The Cougars
Biola (La Mirada): The eighth-ranked Eagles (13-5-4) bring back nine starters from the NAIA quarterfinalists -- the best showing in school history -- including their 1-2 punch up top, all-conference forwards Marco Ruvalcaba (La Mirada HS) and Kennedy Chongo, from Zambia. Ruvalcaba scored 13 goals and Chongo eight, and All-GSAC goalkeeper Aaron Fenlason posted 11 shutouts. Ninth-year coach Bryan Kuderman has the talent to compete for the GSAC title and perhaps at the NAIA Tournament, and he hopes he has the depth.
Cal Baptist (Riverside): The Lancers (5-7-4) already have pulled off one surprise, knocking off College Soccer News' No. 28 NCAA Division I team (Sacramento State), and they hope to climb into the upper tier of the GSAC. Watch for junior forward Osvaldo Bastida (Katella HS), who matched his 2009 goal total (2) the first weekend. Defense is a real strength: Back are All-GSAC backliners Carlos Figueroa (Beaumont HS) and Willie Rupert, a four-year starter at left back, and 6-foot-4, 225-pound goalkeeper Dan Kelly (Linfield Christian HS) -- he kicked 45 field goals in four years for Hawaii's football team -- will benefit from a year's experience.
Concordia (Irvine): The Eagles (9-7-2), who lost to Azusa Pacific in the 2007 NAIA final, must rebuild after the departures of two-time NAIA All-America defender Joel Smith, all four All-GSAC selections and five of seven players who scored at least three goals in a balanced attack, including the top two scorers. Spanish forward Roi Castro is the top returning goal-getter -- he had four in 2009 -- and Russian-born goalkeeper Mike Radchuk (Aliso Niguel HS/Irvine Valley College) is a solid backstop for a defense that could be tighter. Second-year coach Chris Gould, a pivotal player when Concordia won its first GSAC title five years ago, spent two years as the top assistant at Irvine Valley, a top JC program.
Hope International (Fullerton): Joe Lurker heads into his fifth year as Royals coach with a chance, perhaps, to challenge the traditional GSAC powers. His top three scorers and entire backline is back from a team that went 6-8-4, but just 1-7-2 in conference play. And 2007's starting goalkeeper, Jake Brown, is back after two years studying to be a firefighter in Oregon. All-GSAC forward Edgar Bran, the Orange County prep Player of the Year following his senior season at La Habra High School, led the conference in scoring as a freshman, with 15 goals and nine assists. Matthew Howard (Great Oak HS) and Jesus Ramos (Norco HS) are productive midfielders, and four-year starter Adrian La Farge (La Habra HS) anchors the defense.
The Master's (Santa Clarita): The second-ranked Mustangs figure to compete for the NAIA championship after winning the GSAC and reaching the NAIA title game, following a stunning playoff run, in last year's 19-3-3 campaign. Jim Rickard, the NAIA Coach of the Year, has won 240 games in 19 years at The Master's, and he returns nine starters, including NAIA All-America second-team midfielder Jake Marchesani (9 goals-11 assists) and two all-conference selections: forward Joel Peluffo (Hart HS), who led the Mustangs with 14 goals, and defender Andy Hegg (Santiago HS in Corona). Also back is productive midfielder Marlon Lindo (6-5) and super-sub Marcelo Silva, who scored six goals, five of them game-winners, on just 18 shots. Replacing All-America first-team goalkeeper Kevin Lawson (0.53 GAA, 14 shutouts) is a must.
Vanguard (Costa Mesa): The Lions look to bounce back from a uncharacteristic 7-7-4 campaign, led by Serbian midfielder Tomislav Colic, an NAIA second-team All-American who has been on the All-GSAC team three times. Colic led Vanguard with nine goals and six assists. All-conference forward Adam Holstein (Tesoro HS), an Azusa Pacific transfer who netted seven goals in his first season with the Lions, and workhorse midfielder Alex Lopez (Servite HS), who scored five goals as a freshman, also return. Randy Dodge, who also is in charge of the women's team, is one of Southern California most respected coaches; he also guides Aliso Niguel High School's competitive boys and girls programs.
Marymount (Rancho Palos Verdes): The Mariners return to true athletic competition for the first time in more than a decade, with former Cal State Bakersfield assistant coach Ben Graham building the program almost from scratch. He arrives after a stint as graduate assistant at NCAA Division II power Incarnate Word in San Antonio. This is the second season for Marymount, which was unaffiliated last year but gained admission to the NAIA for this season. Swedish freshman Viktor Ahlgren is the top target up top. Ross Clare was the MVP of last year's team, and fellow defender Israel Reynoso was Most Improved Player.
Soka (Aliso Viejo): The Lions (6-9-3) tripled their win total from year one, and Marine Cano -- a former pro goalkeeper who guided Cal State Dominguez Hills to the 1991 NCAA Division II women's title, also coached the Dominguez Hills men, and came to Soka after a dozen years as UC Irvine's women's coach -- has decent talent but little depth headed into the third fall. Four of the five Japanese players are in their third seasons with the program, understandable given the school's connection to a university of the same name in Japan; the best is sweeper Ichiro Kobayashi. Others to watch: goalkeeper Tim Sasser (Fullerton HS), midfielders Gabriel Chagolla (Capistrano Valley HS) and Marco Ocampo (Katella HS) and German forward Marco Timm.