September 12, 2008
By John Philip Wyllie
San Diego State Aztec soccer coach, Lev Kirshner has left no stone unturned when it comes to recruiting. He has players from all corners of the United States and across the globe filling out his squad, but he hasn’t forgotten to look in his own back yard. Currently, there are five former San Diego County prep stars on his roster. And his local scouting is paying dividends.
Former Sweetwater High School star, Joe Corona, notch-ed the first two goals of his Aztec career last weekend in the 6-0 rout of the University of Albany and former Eastlake High standout Daniel Ortega picked up an assist.
La Prensa caught up with Ortega as he was packing for Colorado and the team’s weekend road matches against Air Force and the University of Denver.
“After playing in high school and with a club, playing Division I soccer here at San Diego State in one of the top (collegiate) leagues is probably the best thing that I could have done. It was a good decision. We play in the PAC-10 against Cal and UCLA, so I have improved a lot both mentally and physically. I lot of San Diego players don’t even think about playing locally, but now that SDSU has put itself on the map these last few years we are no longer underestimated. Everyone is gunning for us.”
The Aztecs were the PAC-10 runners-up in both Ortega’s freshman and sophomore years. This year they will be shooting for a league championship and an NCAA Tournament berth.
“We only lost one starter from last year’s team’’ Ortega said. “That was Kraig Chiles who is now playing for Chivas USA. We have some great recruits in. Some of our really good freshman are going to play important roles for us this year. We were a little young last year, but everybody is back and we are now a year older and more experienced.”
Despite their recent success and their abundance of returning players the Aztecs were somehow ranked 5th out of six in the preseason PAC-10 poll. That doesn’t bother Ortega one bit.
“If that is where they see us that is fine. Those are just ratings. That will motivate us, but at the same time we are going to have to prove ourselves,” Ortega said.
Each year is a new year and Ortega is determined to gain more playing time during the 2008 campaign. He is not sure at this point where that will be.
“My coach, Lev Kirshner has been moving me around. I am getting looks at attacking midfield as well as outside wide and playing forward as well. He gives me the freedom to do what I can offensively, so I am comfortable in every position.”
As a high school player Ortega often found himself shuttling between the Eastlake Titans and various U.S. National junior teams. While he has not had a call-up since entering college, one of his dreams is to one day represent the United States on the full national team. That is not his only dream however.
“Playing soccer professionally is my dream and playing for the national (youth) teams was a great experience, so I would love to represent my country again,” Ortega said.
The fact that his 2007 Aztec teammate, Kraig Chiles is now earning a living in the MLS makes Ortega’s dream of a life in professional soccer seem much more attainable.
“Kraig and I play the same position and we kind of play the same way, but in other ways we are very different. He has already gotten a couple starts and he is doing well so far, so I look up to him. Playing in the MLS for a great team like Chivas USA is something that I would love to do someday as well.”