Former Titan goalkeeper and assistant coach Bob Ammann makes his head coaching debut and his primary aim is rekindling the success associated with the program for most of the past 25 years under predecessor Al Mistri, who retired at the end of the 2005 season. Reconnecting with alumni, the campus community and the soccer community are all high on Ammann's agenda.
"To do this job the way I want takes a lot of work," said Ammann, who spent the last 15 years assisting Mistri in increasingly responsible roles. "I want to get a lot of people involved again, both outside the campus and within the campus. We had about 50 alumni players for our Spring match and that was a good start.
"As far as this season, the staff and players have high expectations for the coming year. We have a lot of new players and how well they jell and get used to the scheme of things will determine how well we will do. The new guys showed a lot of promise in pre-season training. Obviously, expectations by outsiders are not that high."
The Titans were picked to finish fifth in the Big West Conference pre-season coaches poll, one point ahead of Cal Poly. The two teams tied for fifth last year when Fullerton posted its worst Div. I record ever at 4-14-1 overall and 1-9 in the Big West.
Only eight lettermen return from that squad but all were starters for much of the season. Ammann's optimism is fueled by the added presence of potentially four players who were at one time were members of the United States Under-17 national team.
"Gabriel and Michael Farfan (Bradenton, Florida / Edison Academy) were in residency with that team last year before enrolling at Fullerton in the Spring and one of their teammates was Michael Balogun (Houston, TX / Westside HS), upon whom we are awaiting certification from the NCAA clearing house. And so far Marco Rodriguez (Diamond Bar / Diamond Ranch HS) has been healthy. Having him back after missing two seasons with knee injuries is a major help and will solidify the ball possession style of play we want to utilize. We have enough players capable of knocking it around and keeping possession.
"Marco and the Farfans alone will make a big difference. When you throw in some of the other newcomers such as Omar Rodriguez (Las Vegas, NV / Taft College) and .Peter Kingman (Hampshire, England / John Hanson HS), if he is healthy, then that will be a huge plus. Plus, Eugene Brooks (El Paso, TX / Bel Air HS) is healthy after battling foot injuries for two years."
Rodriguez came to the Titans with great fanfare in 2003 from the Under-17 team and he had a solid freshman season, starting 16 matches and logging 2 assists. But he suffered a knee injury in the 2004 season opener and underwent surgery. Further surgery was required last Fall when the first procedure did not heal properly.
The Farfan twins are even more high profile with more playing experience on the national team than Rodriguez had.
"Our strength lies in the midfield where Marco and Michael Farfan will play with Gabriel Farfan probably at a forward spot," said Ammann. "We have a lot of different options. Balogun would really shore us up. He was a highly coveted recruit and will have a major impact. We've had national players before, but that all came after their Titan careers.
"Our strength at midfield should create more scoring opportunities for us. We're hoping to get Kingman ready by the Big West Conference matches. He suffered a compound fracture of both the fibula and tibia the day before he was to leave England last January."
Other strong midfielders are sophomore letterman Jacob Shumway (Riverside / Martin Luther King HS) and newcomer Reid Baker (Park City HS) from Park City, Utah.
Fullerton players scored only 20 goals last year and only five of them came from returning players - two each by Skyler Thureson (Long Beach / Seaside Academy) and Yaron Shlomi (East Brunswick, NJ / Rutgers) and one by Brooks, who earned honorable mention on the All-Big West Conference team for the second time. Also back from the front line is sophomore David Garcia (Irvine / Irvine HS).
Defensively, the Titans are thin in experience, particularly in goal. San Jose State transfer Brent Douglas (Peoria, AZ) played in 8 games in two seasons for the Spartans while returning sophomore Kevin Puder (La Mirada / La Mirada HS) played in 6 games last year for the Titans with a 1-2-0 record as a starter. Freshman Tyler Andrews (Canyon Lake) from Woodcrest Christian High School in Riverside will get a chance to play right away.
The top returning defenders are German Moreno (Long Beach / Cabrillo HS), Amir Shafii (Irvine / Woodbridge HS) and Shlomi. The Titans' coaches also have liked the work of converted forward Ben Hofstetter (Boise, ID / Timberline HS).
"German played very well in the Spring season," said Ammann of last year's 13-game starter. "For never playing there before, Ben has done well as a defender, too."
Irvine Valley College transfer Sean Keefe (Mission Viejo) and freshmen Matt Sanders (Orange / Villa Park HS) and Shay Spitz (Sydney, Australia) provide depth and may allow senior Taylor Sheldrick (Palmdale / Quartz Hill HS) to move back to midfield, from where he scored the Titans' first 3 goals of the 2004 season before being switched to the back line.
Avoiding injuries is key to every team and with a 23-man roster, the Titans are particularly vulnerable.
"The last time we had a roster this small, we went to the national semifinals," said Ammann of the 1993 team that had only 19 players. "There are a lot of positive things about a small roster, assuming you can avoid significant injuries."
Ammann, who is proud to have been a member of all six CSF NCAA Tournament teams, has come up with a new-look non-conference schedule. It's not soft, but missing for a change are NCAA Tournament veterans such as Indiana, UCLA, Clemson, Ohio State, etc.
"We still face good competition and will have a good strength of schedule. We play a number of teams from out of our region and we play our first six matches away from home," pointed out Ammann. "But our first four Big West matches are at home.
"Our tournament in Memphis (vs. the host Tigers and Oral Roberts) came about because of my participation in the Yes Clinic at the Soccer Cup at the Home Depot Center. Maine is making a West Coast trip and was looking for a match. Of course, we still have Cal and Stanford from the Pac-10, so we should get a good measure of where we are."
In keeping with the theme of Titan tradition, Ammann recruited 2001-04 CSF goalkeeper Sam Reynolds to volunteer as goalkeeper coach around his playing schedule with Chivas of the MSL. Jerry Laterza, one of Ammann's former professional teammates, also is a volunteer assistant and Earl Alexander, who had 3 goals and an assist last season as a Titan senior, returns as a graduate assistant coach. Adam Reeves, another former Titan who has been a volunteer assistant the past two years, is filling the No. 1 assistant's role while the hiring process runs its course. Former Titan All-American Eddie Soto, who returned to the CSF coaching staff in January to fill Ammann's post, left in late July to reunite with high school teammate Coach Jorge Salcedo at UCLA.