20 Years and Counting - Coach Kirshner Leads SDSU Men's Soccer into a New Season
Written by Hector Trujillo
I still remember it like it was yesterday. The first ever soccer game I got to cover on this side of the border was November of 2003 when the SDSU Aztecs took on the New Mexico Lobos (who were ranked third in the nation at the time) a game that was decided in extra time.
That was the first time I had the honor of speaking with head coach Lev Kirshner and have been privileged to call him a friend ever since. With the 8th Annual Light The Night Game on August 30th versus cross town rival USD right around the corner to open the 2019 SDSU men's soccer regular season, it's easy to forget those who have done so much for the beautiful sport as much as Kirshner has and I would be remiss if I didn't do my part. I recently got a chance to sit down with Lev Kirshner recently to ask him some pointed questions as he enters his 20th season leading the program (after serving as assistant head coach for three seasons).
Q: What has been the best part of leading the Aztecs as you enter your 20th season at the helm?
A: The best part has been watching the growth of the program from where it was when I first got here. I've been so fortunate to be involved with such wonderful administrations from the beginning until now. It's a student-athlete centric department which goes along well with my value system. I always try to impress upon our players that it's more than just being a soccer player and more than just being a student, we are really here to help nurture them and that has made this a very rewarding experience.
Kirshner has an impressive track record of developing his players to compete in the highest levels and at the professional ranks. Among the most noteworthy are goalkeeper Tally Hall who played for the Houston Dynamo, Orlando City SC and DC United during his eight year MLS career, midfielder Damian German who currently plays in the USL for the Real Monarchs, midfielder and Academic All-American Kevin Sapanli, defender Steven Beitashour who is playing his tenth season in the MLS currently playing for LAFC, defender Daniel Steres and midfielder Joe Corona who play alongside each other with the LA Galaxy, defender Aleks Berkolds who was drafted earlier this year by the Seattle Sounders and Kraig Chiles who played forward in 2008 for Chivas USA and is currently the all-time leading scorer of the Major Arena Soccer League's San Diego Sockers.
"Coach Kirshner is a great man and leader. He has always been there for me both on and off the field", said Chiles. "Sharing the my last two national championships with Coach Kirshner was a special moment for both of us".
Q: What unexpected obstacles have you had to overcome during this time?
A: Early in my career we were talking about getting into the Pac 12. We were going to need full scholarship allotments, help with the recruiting, ultimately help with staffing in terms of the coaches and then you want some amenities like the lights. I would never have expected us to go from four scholarships and an $1,800 recruiting budget to sitting here competing within the best conference in the country under million dollar lights.
Q: What are some of your most memorable moments as head coach?
A: Obviously getting to the NCAA Tournament in 2005 for the first time is a highlight and beating the number one team in the country (2016). We've beat many top-five and top-ten teams, but when you actually beat the number one team in the country (Akron) with it being the first time in the history of San Diego State athletics, it's a monumental accomplishment.
Kirshner went to back to back NCAA Tournaments in 2005 and 2006. In the 2010 and 2011 seasons, he led the Aztecs to back to back 10-win seasons for the first time since 1991. Most recently the Aztecs went to the tournament in 2016 in a season which was also highlighted by a top 10 ranking and finishing the regular season in the top 25.
Q: What do expect from the Aztecs this season?
A: We are going to go out and give our best effort each and every game. As always we are going to show a good brand of soccer, make the best decisions with the ball and entertain our fans. Besides striving for NCAA tournaments or Pac 12 championships we live by the adage "make good decisions give your best effort every day."
The Aztecs finished the 2018 regular season with a road win over Pac 12 rival UCLA Bruins and hope to build off that for 2019. Kirshner is one of only three coaches in the program's 50 year history.