STOCKTON — The quest for a third consecutive appearance in the NCAA men’s soccer tournament began Saturday night at Knoles Field as the Tigers treated an estimated 300 fans with an exhibition match victory against Westmont College.
The Tigers, most sporting bleached-blonde hair, defeated the Warriors 4-0. Tariq Branche scored a header off an assist from Bob Groenendijk in the 22nd minute, while freshmen Mamoru Kamisasanuki and Brady Cooper each added goal before Camden Riley’s penalty kick goal in the second half.
The Tigers are one of three West Coast Conference teams which received votes in the first poll of the 2018 United Soccer Coaches. Portland received 13, Pacific was awarded nine, and San Francisco earned three. Topping the poll with 23 first-place votes is Stanford, the team which knocked Pacific out of the tournament each of the past two seasons.
“Obviously (Stanford) has had some tremendous success,” Pacific coach Ryan Jordan said. “We’ll get a chance to look at them in the regular season (Sept. 20 in Palo Alto) as opposed to the postseason. But that’s a few games down the line.”
The Tigers have 15 returning players from the team that finished 13-4-2 (4-2-1 WCC), including its top three goal and point scorers in Branche, junior Anthony Orendain and senior Camden Riley. A glaring void to fill will be the absence of Tristan Blackmon, who was selected third overall in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft by LA FC.
“Anytime you lose players who have been influential you know there’s a void to fill but that’s part of college athletics,” Jordan said. “You’re constantly thinking about how you’re going to put your next team together. So, we’re excited to see how those kinds of things take shape.”
Jordan recruited eight new freshmen to the Tigers’ family and expects them to contend for playing time.
“I feel like it’s a really good class of soccer players,” Jordan said. “They’re super people, and they’ll be great student-athletes here on campus.
“You spend a lot of time working on getting your team together so you’re excited when you finally have them all on campus,” he added. “You get to train them a little bit, and it’s great to have this first contest so you can evaluate some of the things you’re working on.”
Filling the hole between the posts may be the biggest question mark for the Tigers as Curtis Goldsmith occupied the net all last season. Sophomore Ethan Bandre started Saturday and Mateo Gomez was inserted in the second half.
“Obviously we know that our goalkeeping position is going to be competitive just like every other position on the field,” Jordan said. “Guys get an opportunity to start making deposits into their accounts.”
The Tigers travel to UC Davis on Thursday for its second exhibition match before returning to their home pitch Aug. 24 for the season opener against Alabama-Birmingham. Cal, which received 45 votes, visits Knoles Field on Aug. 31.