The Cal State LA men’s soccer team will play for a NCAA Division II National Championship for the second consecutive season this weekend—and this time they are determined to come out on top.
The Golden Eagles will face a familiar opponent in Saturday’s title match in Colorado Springs, Colorado: the University of Charleston. After a spectacular 2019 season, Cal State LA suffered their only loss that year to the team from West Virginia, whose mascot is also the Golden Eagle, in the game that mattered most: the NCAA Division II National Championship Final.
“We’re excited. It’s a big opportunity. We’re here in the final,” senior defender Morten Bjoershol said after Cal State LA’s national semifinal win Thursday night. “Last year didn’t go our way so we’re excited to give it our all and hopefully it goes our way this time.”
Cal State LA secured their slot in the 2021 national final through a stunning penalty kick shootout on Dec. 9, following a bruising 110-minute battle with Nova Southeastern from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. After the Golden Eagles went down 1-0, failing to convert their first two attempts, goalkeeper Alvaro Unanua denied three straight shots from the Sharks, allowing Cal State LA to come back and win the shootout 3-1.
“After I saved the first one I knew that the team just cheered up,” said Unanua in a post-game press conference. “Then with the second one, it went better, and then the third one—it was amazing.”
As freshman midfielder Jeppe Paulsen scored the game-winning penalty for Cal State LA, Bjoershol ran directly to Unanua, grinning from ear to ear, to hug and celebrate with his keeper. The moment would have been nearly impossible to imagine just two years ago.
In 2019, Bjoershol and his team watched as Unanua lifted the national championship trophy, surrounded by his teammates from the University of Charleston after their 2-0 victory over Cal State LA. But after the tournament final, Unanua came away impressed by Cal State LA’s players and team culture. After graduating from the University of Charleston, he decided to come to Cal State LA and play his final two years of eligibility as a graduate student at the university.
Now united on the field, Bjoershol and Unanua have been nearly unstoppable this season.
Both were recently named All-Americans by the United Soccer Coaches and Division II Conference Commissioners Association, and respectively earned California Collegiate Athletic Association’s Defender of the Year and Goalkeeper of the Year awards. Their efforts, combined with Cal State LA’s back line, have produced a 0.563 team-goals-against average that ranks second-best nationally. Meanwhile, no goalkeeper in the nation sports a higher save percentage than Unanua at 0.873.
A handful of mid-game injuries and a consistent attack from Nova Southeastern challenged Cal State LA in the Thursday night semifinal match, but as they’ve done all season, the Golden Eagles relied on their stout defensive work to keep the team competitive in critical moments.
It’s a factor head coach Chris Chamides is certain to rely on as he prepares to rally his team for Saturday’s championship game.
“We’ll spend time regenerating today and talking to each player with the idea of seeing where they’re at physically so that we can try to splice together a group that can give the best possible go tomorrow,” Chamides said. “It’s one game at a time, but at the same time, it’s the last one.”
Cal State LA will take the pitch against the University of Charleston for the NCAA Division II National Championship title on Saturday, Dec. 11, at Weidner Field in Colorado Springs. Kickoff is slated for 2 p.m. PST. The game will be broadcast live on NCAA.com.
Photo: Morten Bjoershol (left) and Alvaro Unanua together at Weidner Field in Colorado Springs, Colorado, during the NCAA Division II Final Four. (Credit: Robert Huskey/Cal State LA)
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California State University, Los Angeles is the premier comprehensive public university in the heart of Los Angeles. Cal State LA is ranked number one in the United States for the upward mobility of its students. Cal State LA is dedicated to engagement, service, and the public good, offering nationally recognized programs in science, the arts, business, criminal justice, engineering, nursing, education, and the humanities. Founded in 1947, the University serves more than 27,000 students and has more than 250,000 distinguished alumni.
Cal State LA is home to the critically-acclaimed Luckman Fine Arts Complex, Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs, Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center, Hydrogen Research and Fueling Facility, Billie Jean King Sports Complex and the TV, Film and Media Center. For more information, visit www.CalStateLA.edu.