During a time when every college conference seems like it wants to shuffle the cards and create a superconfernce, the Moutain Pacific Sports Federation has decided to sit still with men’s soccer, which has put the conference in a delicate balance.
“We are not quite sure specifically what the future of MPSF men’s soccer holds for us given all the movement from conference realignment,” MPSF executive director Al Beaird told TopDrawerSoccer.com in an exclusive statement on Tuesday. “I do know however that MPSF men’s soccer will continue to provide teams in the western United States a conference home as we have done for the past 20 years.
“We will be patient and see how the bigger picture shakes out and go forward from there. One thing for sure, we look forward to having a competitive men’s soccer conference into the foreseeable future.”
In men’s soccer, Sacramento State is leaving the conference this year for the Big West, while Houston Baptist is replacing the Hornets to even out the numbers in the MPSF.
In 2013, the conference will be a revolving door with New Mexico, UNLV, and Air Force all bound for the Conference USA/Mountain West merger, although, Lobos’ head coach Jeremy Fishbein told TopDrawerSoccer.com on Monday that the details were still being ironed out for that league.
PAC-12 administrators still need to approve the move, but all signs point to the Roadrunners heading to the PAC-12.
If all of the aforementioned teams do indeed leave, MPSF would be left with four teams, below the required minimum of six for an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, and without the two programs currently gaining national notoriety, CSU Bakersfield and New Mexico.
“When you are talking about the possibility of losing five programs in two years, I think everybody has a concern,” University of Denver head coach Bobby Muuss told TopDrawerSoccer.com. “We will all put our heads down and see what is best for the conference, what is best for individual programs, and what is best moving forward.”
Muuss made a point to add that Denver is a proud member of the MPSF and some quality programs will remain in the conference.
While the MPSF does remain fully intact in 2012, it should be one of the most competitive men’s soccer conferences in the nation.
New Mexico returns the majority of the roster from last season that won the MPSF league, MPSF tournament, and advanced to the third round of the NCAA tournament.
“I am excited about our team,” Fishbein said. “It is always an adjustment when guys leave and new leaders emerge, it kind of amazes me how quickly players assume new roles. And I am proud of this new found maturity in our guys, the team has taken a new identity pretty quick.”
The Lobos finished last season highly ranked in every poll, but surprisingly seeded as the 10th team in the NCAA tournament.
“There is no perfect way to calculate the RPI,” Fishbein said in reference to the low seed. “It isn’t something that I dwelled on, certainly I would have liked more home games, but we were very capable and should have won games on the road. It is not something I try to put too much focus on.”
One of the main components of the RPI, which is a major factor in postseason seeding, is road games against quality opposition. Fishbein said New Mexico continues to challenge itself with games against the best teams in the nation. This fall, his team has scheduled UCLA on the road to start the season.
“That is going to be a great test,” Fishbein added about the opener. “Then we go to a tournament at University of Tulsa and play SMU and Tulsa. Those are three great games to start the season. We are going to see what we are about pretty quick.”
Once the Lobos start conference play, Air Force, Denver, and CSU Bakersfield all look capable of taking down last season’s frontrunner.
“I am excited [about next season],” Muuss said. “Players and coaches learned a lot from this season, and we are putting it behind us.”
Muuss brings in another strong recruiting class to Denver this year headlined by four-star prospect Malcolm Harris, who is the no. 32 overall recruit from the 2012 class.
“We are excited of the future of the program moving forward,” Muuss said. “Malcolm’s ability to play multiple positions should allow him to contribute immediately.”
Paired with junior Blair Jeralds in defense or sophomore Brian Hoyt in midfield, and the Pioneers clearly have building blocks for the future.
CSU Bakersfield poses as the biggest threat to New Mexico in the upcoming season. Coach Simon Tobin returns star forward Gyasi Zardes for another year in hopes of leading his Roadrunners to glory.
“It is lucky for us he will play one more year,” Tobin said. “He will leave after his junior year. He likes being at school and wants to finish school.”
Tobin went on to address the rumors about any reluctance from Zardes to join Los Angeles Galaxy as a Home Grown player.
“He stayed to finish his degree, nothing else,” Tobin added. “He loves the Galaxy - he is a Southern California kid.”
Zardes is the brightest star in the MPSF in 2012, but teammate Korey Kindle has also drawn the attention of MLS scouts for his splendid play at left back.
Tobin added a strong recruiting class, which should be officially announced in the coming days, to compliment his returners.
Four-star recruits Christian Duarte, Oscar Sorto, and Carlos Grande figure to be immediate contributors for the Roadrunners, which are looking to return to the NCAA D-I tournament.
The long-term future of the MPSF may be hazy, but this fall should be a fitting final showcase of the talented programs in the oft-neglected conference.
Player to watch in the MPSF:
Gyasi Zardes (CSU Bakersfield, forward, redshirt junior): “I have coached for 25 years, and I will never coach anyone this good again,” CSU Bakersfield head coach Simon Tobin said about Zardes. “He has everything.” Zardes scored 18 goals last year in 20 games last season, and could very likely top that total this year, as the Galaxy Academy product develops into the most electrifying player in college soccer.J.R. Eskilson is a staff reporter at TopDrawerSoccer.com. Follow him on or send him an email.