Memorable finish, memorable season

As the final minutes winded down on the 2013 season for the Santa Monica College men's soccer team, sophomore defender and captain Ricky Malmstroem entered the game against College of the Canyons. Battling an ankle injury, Malmstroem scored on a corner kick header, sealing both the 5-1 victory and his career on SMC's soccer team.

For head coach Tim Pierce, this was the most memorable moment of the team's second season back after a 20-year hiatus.

"It was kind of a cool way to culminate the season and his career here at Santa Monica College," said Pierce, who is in his second year coaching the team.

As the rebuilding of the team continued, the Corsairs improved on their 2012 fourth-place record, finishing this season at 12-5-4, and third in Western State South Conference play.

"I thought the season was very positive," Pierce said. "We had a great group of guys that stayed eligible all season long. I was very pleased with the way the season went."

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After the third-place finish, it seemed that the postseason was well within reach. However, due to a power-point system, the team narrowly missed the playoffs.

"It was a systematic thing for us," Pierce said. "It was a bummer that we didn't make playoffs, but that's kind of part of that system, and for whatever reason, based on the power points, we didn't get in. We had a better record than a lot of the teams that made the playoffs, but I think next season we're going to have to bulk up on our preseason schedule."

Even with playoff exclusion, Pierce does not feel the season was diminished.

"To win 12 games and only lose five in our second year as a program is nothing but positives for me," he said.

In 1990, SMC's men’s soccer program was expelled from the league after both a Title IX violation (discrimination based on sex) and a fight started by the team. Since their return in fall 2012, the team has become one of the top teams in the conference.

"Two winning records in a row, and we finished at the top of the table both times," Pierce said.

For the 2013 season, the Corsairs leaned heavily on defense, but sometimes lacked consistency at certain points.

The Corsairs' defense was second to none, shutting out 10 opponents over a 21-game season, an improvement from the three shutouts in 2012.

Not settling for second fiddle, the offense relied on strong chemistry, communication, and strategic forward movement of the ball to create better scoring chances, giving them an average of 2.7 goals per game.

But Pierce said that the team needs to improve consistency if they want to be in playoff contention next season.

“Some days we look unbeatable, and others we struggle finding ways to put our best product on the field and sustain for a full 90 minutes,” he said. "The preseason, we can schedule some tougher games to get some more power points because that's what the playoffs are based on."

The success of other conference teams is key, Pierce said, as greater teams mean a chance at more power points.

As far as training goes, Pierce said he looks to integrate more fitness to accommodate members of the team who have expressed desire for additional conditioning.

"I'm having individual meetings, and the guys felt that maybe they could be a little fitter," he said.

In order to maintain the health of the team, Pierce said he makes sure the players rest after games and stretch properly before and after a workout.

Another upside for the Corsairs this season has been the scouting of many players by four-year colleges.

SMC sophomores including Malmstroem, Luis Fuentes, Rafael Silva, Fredy Salguero, and Kevin Alonzo have had interest from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, CSU Los Angeles, and the University of California, San Diego. Freshmen Oskar Martinsson, Duncan Bochicchio and Jonathan Navas have received attention as well.

For next season, Pierce said freshmen recruits will have to try out while recruits are currently being scouted as well.

"Recruits are being sold on a winning program with a great staff, great returners, a great environment to play at, and an awesome school and education," he said.

The season is now under wraps, and the team is already looking ahead to next season. Still, the emotion was all left out on the field in the final game of 2013.

"We played with a lot of passion that day, and we were fired up," Pierce said. "Everyone knew it was their last game, so we played like it was the state championship. It was great to see."