The San Diego Toreros received their official bid to the Men’s Soccer NCAA Tournament when the field was announced on Monday. The Toreros were the only West Coast Conference team selected for the field after clinching the automatic bid that came with winning the 2014 WCC Championship. This marks the 14th NCAA Tournament appearance for the USD Men’s Soccer team, and the first since their run to the Elite Eight in 2012.
The Toreros took advantage of a a strong veteran core and talented young players to dominate a weak conference and claim the automatic big. With no WCC teams having a particularly impressive season, the automatic bid proved very valuable. The Toreros had the highest RPI in the conference at #55, and without an automatic bid no WCC team may have had a strong enough resume to make the tournament. Loyola Marymount, San Francisco, and Saint Mary’s were close behind the Toreros in the RPI, but they ended up on the outside of the final 48 team field.
The Toreros will host their first round match on Thursday against Cal State Fullerton. The Toreros and Titans battled to a scoreless draw in an early season match back in September. This is a very winnable game against an average team that is appearing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2000. The Titans also have a very average RPI that likely would not have been tournament-worthy without the automatic bid they claimed by winning the Big West Championship.
The Toreros will certainly be the more talented team on the field. They are paced by a strong offense that tied for the WCC lead in goals. Connor Brandt and Torrey DeArmas each have seven goals putting them among the top ten in the conference. They are two of a number of veteran leaders the Toreros still have from their 2012 Elite Eight squad. That experience in big games will go a long way this postseason.
The defense is not quit as strong, but it is talented and can do enough to allow the offense to win games. 2013 First Team All-WCC selection Julian Ringhof is a big and intimidating defender who is another veteran of the 2012 squad. Transfer player Patrick Zimmer has also been a key piece of the defense, although ironically his greatest moment can on the offensive end when his goal off a penalty kick led the Toreros to a 1-0 upset of then #1 ranked UCLA in late September.
Speaking of major upsets, this squad is very familiar with them. It makes them a dangerous squad in the postseason, as evident by their 2012 Elite Eight run. The Toreros have upset major ranked teams in each of the past three years including knocking off the #1 team each of the past two seasons. Last year they defeated #1 Cal before upseting #1 UCLA this season. The Toreros also beat UCLA back in 2012 when the Bruins were #4 in the nation. That was an NCAA Tournament upset that sent the Toreros to the Sweet Sixten.
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Their success against UCLA is very relevant because the Bruins are #2 in the nation currently and will be the Toreros’ second round opponent should they get past Fullerton. The Bruins received a first round bye, so their match against USD would be their first of the tournament. The confidence the Toreros should have knowing they already beat UCLA this year and in 2012 during the postseason could go a long way to helping their confidence.
From there they would likely face yet another familiar foe in the Sweet Sixteen. Cal is #15 in the nation and awaits on the other side of the region. The Toreros and Golden Bears have not played each other since the USD upset win last season. To be potentially facing three straight foes from California that the Toreros know they can beat makes for a strong possibility that they could get hot and go on another deep postseason run.