NCAA programs around the country play a unique role in developing young talented players in the United States. Recently, DSD writer Sam Nelson took a close look at MLS Homegrown players that are breaking into MLS from Youth Development Academies around the country. However, a significant number of national team prospects, on the men's and women's side, come out of the large pool of NCAA collegiate talent. And even if they don't make it to the national team, college players often find their way into the various levels of professional and amateur soccer in the United States, providing fuel for the progress of U.S. soccer. Also, if Pro/Rel ever becomes a reality in U.S. Soccer, college players will help fill the ranks. DSD writer Justin Perna helps us get a better sense of what is going on in the NCAA game; which programs are performing well or underperforming, where is the brightest talent, and how are players transitioning into the next competitive levels in the game?
The Aztec men's soccer program didn’t have the 2017 season they hoped for. However, that didn’t stop current and former players from making the best of the their time in the black and red and pursuing careers in the game beyond the collegiate level.
The Aztec men’s soccer program is the only athletic program at San Diego State University that competes in the Pac 12 during the regular season. The conference includes three-time defending national champion Stanford, perennial power UCLA, along with the university of Washington, Cal, and Oregon State. A small but extremely formable group.
The black and red showed their grit and talent by finishing 3rd in the conference in 2016 (9-5-6; 4-3-3). The regular season was highlighted by a 1-0 home win against then number one ranked University of Akron Zips (I was in attendance). The Aztecs qualified for the NCAA tournament in 2016 losing a heartbreaker at home to UNLV on pks in the opening round. The 2017 Aztecs looked to rebound and improve on the previous year.
That was not the case as the Aztecs battled their way to a 6-13 overall record. But the bright spot then had to come individually as Aztecs from this season and former seasons showed that their time at the Mesa was well spent.
Steven Beitashour, an Aztec from 06-09 was a member of the 2017 MLS Cup champion squad, Toronto FC. He played all 90 in the back line for the cup champs against the Sounders in the final.
This year, the Aztecs had a another stellar senior class led by a number of transfers. Senior Jeroen Meefout, made an immediate impact transferring from University of Maryland two season ago. Winston Soarhaitz and San Diego native Dalin Cutler transferred in two years ago from BYU.
I had a chance to interview Cutler this week. He capped his senior year and 2017 season with a two goal performance, in a 4-0 route of UCLA on senior night at SDDU’s Sportsdeck Field. Cutler finished with 3 goals and 3 assists on the year.
Cutler started his playing career in San Diego where he was a club and high school standout. He was on the TopDrawer Soccer top 100 high school players list, and an ESPN rise top 50 players to watch.
Cutler is a member of the LDS community. His faith led him to BYU to compete in the men’s program and continue with his mission and religious duties. BYU men’s program does not compete in the NCAA, but rather play in the PDL. They are the only NCAA program to do so. After his mission during his sophomore year, Cutler decided to return to San Diego for an opportunity to play in the NCAA. Cutler led the cougars in minutes and shots in both years in the PDL before coming back to San Diego and wearing the Aztec black and red for his remaining years of eligibility. I asked Dalin a few questions about his return to San Diego.
Justin Perna: What was your collegiate and professional expectation in transferring to SDSU?
Dalin Cutler: The whole reason for transferring to San Diego State was to get into the NCAA and play in a conference (PAC 12) that would give me the opportunity to play with and in front of some of the best coaches and players in the nation. BYU was a phenomenal experience for me, but I wanted to give myself, what I thought at the time would be, the best opportunity to play at the next level after college soccer.
JP: What are your current pro prospects or interests after graduation (MLS combine, USL, NASL, international, MASL)?
DC: Right now, I have a few opportunities to play at the next level. Luckily for me, while I was playing at SDSU I was able to meet Ziggy Korytoski while he was an assistant coach. I really grew to appreciate and respect the guy as a person and as a coach. After I graduated, he reached out to me and told me a little bit about his vision for ASC San Diego, a local professional team in San Diego. I made a decision to stick with Ziggy and his staff for now and actually just recently signed a contract to play with them this coming season. Other than that, I was invited to a few combines with the San Jose EarthQuakes, the other pro team in San Diego, 1904 FC and a few trials down in Costa Rica.
JP: What are your thoughts on the future of Aztec Soccer?
DC: I think SDSU has a good group of guys that they can count on over the next few years. If there was one thing I really appreciated at San Diego State, it was the camaraderie and the banter between all the guys on the team. I love those guys, man. I think we were a really close team and I appreciate all the lifelong friends I made during my time there. I think the relationships that they guys have with each other can definitely do some damage in the future.
JP: What was your favorite collegiate memory from SDSU and/or BYU?
DC: My favorite collegiate memory is probably my last game for San Diego State. Scoring two goals against one of our rivals, UCLA, to beat them in the last game of my college career felt awesome. I think it was so special because up to that point, our season was not going the way we had wanted it to go, probably in more ways than one. Although I really enjoyed my time at San Diego State, I wouldn’t say it was the easiest thing I’ve ever done, and so scoring two goals in a win against UCLA at the very end was a cool feeling.
Currently, the Aztecs have another loaded class signed for the 2018 campaign and beyond. They have four high school standouts, and seven collegiate transfers including those from ACC and Big 10 powerhouses Syracuse and University of Maryland to help with depth and experience going forward. Three of the incoming players have played with their respective national teams, and the squad will feel confident going into the future. These talented young Aztecs make former players like Cutler, Beitashour, and other Aztec greats happy to be alumni of the program.
Author: Justin Perna