Blake Atwell

SMC Corsair / Daily Press reporter

After a 14-4-5 season in 2017, the Santa Monica College Men’s Soccer team is off to an impressive 5-1 start in 2018.

Coach of seven years Tim Pierce said they have a good group and they’re used to winning some games from last year. Sophomore captains Cesar Oliva, Ruben Soria and Narciso Cervantes bring valuable experience and an infusion of young talent. With Coach Pierce at the helm, SMC has high expectations for the rest of the season.

Cervantes, a redshirt sophomore who earned team MVP two seasons ago is one of the team’s most dominant midfielders despite missing the 2017 season due to a concussion. Redshirt freshman Aydin Kose (goalkeeper) and Eto Atiabet (forward) have starred in each of the first five games ending in shutout victories over Bakersfield, El Camino, Palomar, MiraCosta, and a 5-1 triumph against Antelope Valley.

Kose hasn’t allowed a single goal yet this season, and Atiabet is first on the team with six scores. Originally from Sakarya, Turkey, Kose has started all of SMC’s first five games and compiled 13 saves over 395 minutes. He was recommended to Pierce by a former Corsair soccer player, also from Turkey.

Atiabet has come a long way from this time one year ago, when he was trying to earn a spot on the soccer team via physical education classes at SMC. Pierce didn’t see a strong enough focus in Atiabet as a student athlete at first. The local Hamilton High School alum refocused, and was turning heads come last spring.

“He’s an incredible athlete – we always knew that – but it was a matter of getting him refocused and having him commit himself to the group,” Pierce said.

Since joining the team, Atiabet has done nothing but produce results. He leads the team with six goals, good for 13 points.

The team’s first match, a home game against Bakersfield College, featured goals from freshman Jaylen Erhahon (10th minute) and sophomore Cyrille Njomo (40th minute). Kose saved all five shots-on-goal.

The Corsairs traveled to El Camino College for their first road test of the season and prevailed 2-0 for the second straight game. Sophomore Yoel Cohavy scored in the eighth minute and Atiabet followed with a goal in the 58th. SMC attempted nine shots-on-goal to El Camino’s two. Each team was called for one offsides penalty. El Camino gained the edge in saves (7-2) but lost the corner kick battle, 10-2.

SMC kept the road trip going over the weekend with two games in San Diego. Another Corsair soccer match meant another shutout, as Kose saved four more goals in 80 total minutes of action to seal a 4-0 victory against Palomar. Cervantes kicked off scoring for SMC with a goal in the 28th minute, via a Juan Torres assist. Cohavy picked up two assists, one to Njomo in the 52nd minute and another to Atiabet in the 73rd. Atiabet wasted no time to score again, netting a goal moments after in the 75th minute.

MiraCosta College gave SMC their toughest test of the season thus far, but the Corsairs found a way to emerge victorious for the fourth game in a row. Atiabet scored in the 85th minute to give SMC a 1-0 win. MiraCosta gained in advantage in shots-on-goal (5-0), saves (7-2) and corner kicks (2-0), but couldn’t translate any of it to goals.

In the 80th minute of the matchup with Antelope Valley, freshman goalie Kevin Negrete gave up SMC’s first goal of the season. Kose held another shutout in 45 minutes of action, however, and Atiabet scored two goals to seal a 5-1 Corsair victory.

Despite the hot start, Pierce is focused on keeping the Corsairs grounded. “Just because you’re not conceding goals doesn’t mean you’re playing perfect soccer,” Pierce said. He added, “We need to constantly improve, get better and keep assessing ourselves.”

The rest of SMC’s 2018 schedule, after this week’s matchups, includes seven home games and eight road games. Western State Conference play kicks off in October for SMC, on the road against LA Mission on Oct. 11.

This story was published as part of an ongoing partnership between the SMC Corsair Student newspaper and the Santa Monica Daily Press.

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