Contact Form

    News Details

    Cal State Fullerton men’s soccer counting on balance, depth to make a difference
    • October 10, 2023

    George Kuntz is acutely aware of the nuances. He’s conscious of what victories mean beyond the simple and immutable fact that wins and losses are what he and his program are ultimately judged by.

    Kuntz is aware that certain victories, even certain victories in the early stages of what could be the best season in his nine years coaching the Cal State Fullerton men’s soccer team, are more equal than others.

    Beating Mercer, 6-1? Nice. Taking down Air Force, 2-1? Again, nice. Tying a ranked Washington team, 1-1, in Seattle? Well, yes, that’s nice too – but hardly transcendent or attention-grabbing.

    But taking down UCLA – yes, that UCLA – 4-1?

    To quote Leonardo DiCaprio’s Calvin Candie in “Django Unchained” on behalf of the greater collegiate soccer world, “You had my curiosity, but now you have my attention. …”

    “That was a statement win. I can tell you that UCLA is just another team, but to these guys and to the public, it was something different. It was more than that,” Kuntz said. “You can beat almost anyone and there’s not a blip or a word about it. But when we beat UCLA, I was getting texts and getting attention from all over the world. Everyone was texting me, and everyone was aware of it, and it was a huge spike in the awareness of our program.

    “I told them that until you beat teams like this, you’re not relevant. You have to be able to knock down those teams and compete with them straight up. And we did that.”

    These Titans are indeed relevant. They are more than a curiosity, and yes, they have the attention of the West Coast collegiate soccer world through an 8-2-2 start. That start not only includes victories over UCLA and Air Force and that gutsy tie with a 25th-ranked Washington team but wins over Loyola Marymount (1-0) and conference foes Cal State Northridge (5-4) and UC Davis (1-0).

    The LMU victory came on the road against a previously undefeated Lions team. Beating CSUN also came on the road, via an offensive free-for-all that involved the Titans coming back from a 4-3 deficit via goals from Roberto Ordonez in the 77th  minute and Erick Serrano’s 88th-minute, right-place, right-time game-winner. Ordonez’s shot was parried by CSUN goalkeeper Cooper Wenzel right to Serrano, who buried the rebound.

    This would be a good time to explain one huge reason why this Titans’ hot start differs from last year’s hot start, when Fullerton opened the season 5-2-2. The Titans couldn’t sustain that start, going 0-2-2 in their last four and finishing a disappointing 3-3-3 in the Big West Conference. Lack of goal-scoring played a huge part; the Titans failed to find the net in four of their last six games and scored only once in the other two. That came via a wave of injuries to most of Fullerton’s offensive talent.

    And as the injuries piled up and the goals dried up, all Kuntz could do was wistfully look at the wispy figure standing near him in street clothes every game – Ordonez.

    A transfer from West Texas College, Ordonez was a gem that Kuntz knew he was lucky to find. Assistant coach Irving Garcia unearthed this gem after watching him at a national community college tournament, and then Kuntz worked his recruiting magic getting Ordonez to Fullerton.

    All good – until Ordonez somehow injured his back during the 2022 preseason. Test after test turned up nothing, and Kuntz said he was so frustrated the training and medical staff couldn’t find the source of Ordonez’s pain. Kuntz said they believed it was a pinched nerve, and an offseason of strength and core training helped get Ordonez back on the field. But nobody to this day knows what kept Ordonez picking up cones instead of picking up goals.

    “He couldn’t play last year, which really hurt us last year,” Kuntz said. “We had a decent team, but we didn’t have Roberto. Everyone would ask me, ‘What happened to that guy you got from West Texas?’ I’d say, ‘He’s over there, picking up cones like a coach.’

    “In the spring, he showed flashes of how good he could be. We knew he was excellent on set pieces: corners, free-kicks, dead balls. But his touch, his ability to hold the ball, his ability to possess the ball were things over and above anything that we thought he could do.”

    Now, Ordonez is making up for lost time with a vengeance. That 77th-minute goal against Northridge gave him a hat trick. His assist on Serrano’s game-winner gave him two assists – and eight points that night.

    Scoring the lone goal in that 1-0 victory over UC Davis gave Ordonez nine goals this season. That and his 25 points lead the Big West.

    They also lead the nation.

    “I don’t think he’s hit his ceiling yet,” Kuntz said. “I think he has more ability than he thinks he has. He wants to get better. I’ve had a lot of guys go to MLS and I think he has better feet than a lot of those guys who went to MLS. I’ve had a lot, and he would be up there with the best, if not better.”

    The good news for Kuntz and the Titans is that Ordonez has regular and frequent company on the scoresheet. Ordonez is one of five Titans with multiple goals, with Sulaiman Bah (four), Mario Carlos (three), Serrano (two) and Marci Killeen (two). Five others have one.

    Bah, a junior forward from Sierra Leone who claimed the California Collegiate Athletic Association record for points in a season when he played at Cal State Dominguez Hills, tallied in three consecutive games and scored the opener in a 2-0 victory over University of San Diego. Serrano – a junior midfielder and another product of the Coachella Valley pipeline opened by assistant coach and area native Enrique Cardenas – scored five points (three assists and a goal) last year.

    “He’s a tremendous workhorse who is coming into his own,” Kuntz said. “It’s like ‘Who’s that guy?’ He’s been with us two years, but playing in the shadow of (former Titan star) Sebastian Cruz. Now, he’s emerged into his own person.”

    Related Articles

    College Sports |

    Cal State Fullerton’s 2023 Hall of Famers’ stories are remarkable

    College Sports |

    Cal State Fullerton building men’s water polo team with ‘diamonds in the rough’

    Along with that depth, Kuntz learned something about last season’s fadeout. He realized he needed to manage his players’ bodies better. That meant better understanding of when to work them hard physically and when to back off and do more tactical and technical work. Heart monitors and distance monitors chart the work rate, and the distance players run every practice and game. Kuntz and his staff turn that information into better player management.

    “We ran out of gas during league season last year. That’s probably the biggest thing,” he said. “Again, also having talent. We have more talent than last year. I have the ability to put in a guy where there’s no drop-off. When you have guys who can run at people just like the athlete who left the field, it makes a huge difference. There’s no letdown at all.”

    How much of a difference? Kuntz coached three Big West Tournament winners and a conference regular season champion. He’s taken three Titans’ teams to the NCAA Tournament and between Fullerton and his previous stop at UC Irvine, entered the season with 123 victories in 10 years – the most of any coach in that time period.

    And this Titans team has already made an impact.

    “I told our team this. When you’re talking about Fullerton, this is one of the best groups we’ve had,” Kuntz said. “Overall, I think it’s the best group we’ve ever had collectively. We’ve had some good teams, but this one has good balance. There’s depth at every position and that leads to consistency.”

    ​ Orange County Register