SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The Sacramento State men's soccer team (1-3-3) wraps up non-conference play at UNLV (2-5-0) at 7 p.m. Saturday, looking to enter Big West competition on a high note before a showdown with No. 6 Cal State Northridge next Friday.
"I think the non-conference portion of our schedule has prepared us well for the Big West," Sacramento State head coach Michael Linenberger said. "We're continuing to try to get better every game, every week. I think we've made good progress from the start of the season to where we are now."
The pre-conference season has been especially important for Linenberger's side given the youth of his team. Newcomers to the program have played 4,728 minutes through seven matches this season, good for 61.6% of the team's total minutes to this point. Newcomers have also made 44 starts this season, 57.1% of the team's 77 total starts.
"We're extremely young this year – starting five or six freshmen every game – so the big thing is getting those guys experience and getting them up to the speed of the game that it takes at this level," Linenberger said. "From a tactical perspective, we think we've been creating a lot of scoring opportunities in almost every game. We're just not finishing, so we need to continue to work on the final phase, and that's scoring goals."
The struggles finishing have led to just four goals scored through seven matches. The Hornets entered last weekend ranked second in the Big West in shots, but for the year the team has put just 40.8% of its shots on goal. Sacramento State ranks second to last in the conference in shot percentage, converting on just 3.9% of its shots this season.
The Hornets did break a two-match scoreless drought in their last contest at San Diego when sophomore Edwin Luna tallied his first career goal. Luna has been among the top playmakers for the squad all season, having taken 13 shots and placing four on frame. An offensive midfielder, Luna is one of four Hornets that have started every match this season along with freshman defenders Javier Muñoz and Preston Davis and senior goalkeeper Cesar Castillo.
UNLV was a long-time conference rival of Sacramento State in the MPSF and the Hornets have dominated the Rebels over the years to the tune of a 14-4-2 edge in the all-time series. Sacramento State is undefeated over its last six matches against UNLV, but five of those six matches went to overtime including a 3-2 OT win for the Hornets in Sacramento last season. The two teams have gone to overtime in nine of their last 12 meetings dating back to 2005, but only two of those nine OT matches ended in a tie.
The Rebels enter the week 2-5-0 this season with their wins coming against Bradley and Georgia State as part of a 2-1-0 home record. UNLV played two Big West opponents on the road last weekend, dropping 2-1 decisions against both Cal State Northridge and UC Riverside. The team has been outscored 15-12 this season and has been led with four goals and three assists from sophomore Rodrigo Fuentes.