Seamus McFadden knows all too well what his friend and former teammate Chuck Clegg has gone through this week.
As the first and only men's soccer coach at the University of San Diego, McFadden has played the role of underdog each of the 10 times he has faced San Diego State. His record: 0-8-2.
This week, however, as the two schools prepared for tonight's match at 7:30 in Torero Stadium, the roles had been reversed.
"Seamus (pronounced SHAME-us) has done a really good job with USD, and they have a great team now," said Clegg, the Aztecs' coach since 1982, who is 7-0-2 vs. USD. "I'd have to say they're heavy favorites this year."
"Well, favorites," Clegg amended. "I should say favorites. But what's the difference?
"They're young, they score a lot of goals and they're a nationally ranked team. We're very, very young and we're rebuilding this year, as we were last year."
Said McFadden: "When we started out here, we were kind of the kicking rug for a number of years. But that's no longer the story. Our program has grown substantially in the past few years."
Indeed, USD does have the hot foot--so much so that it can no longer even be considered an upstart. Including a hard-fought 2-1 overtime loss to UCLA in the round of 16 at the 1990 NCAA Tournament, the Toreros have lost only three of their past 29 matches dating back to 1989.
This year, they are 2-0, ranked 15th nationally, have outscored their opponents, 9-0, and outshot them, 36-4.
However, the fact remains that USD has never beaten SDSU, a program that has never been through a losing season and lost to Clemson, 2-0, in the 1987 NCAA championship.
USD probably would have been considered a favorite over the Aztecs last year, but they didn't play because of a scheduling conflict. USD finished 16-3-5 in 1990 and made the playoffs for the first time, beating Portland, 4-2, in the first round before falling to eventual champion UCLA.
The Aztecs, 3-0 this season, were 11-6-3 in 1990 and barely missed making the playoffs. It would have been their fourth consecutive postseason appearance.
"They were considered to be better than us last year because of their record, but we never got to prove anything on the field," said Aztec forward Brian Craft-Negrete, adding, "This is a big game for us, a turning point in our season. We'll see what we're made of Saturday night.
"Everybody's ready. Everybody knows this is a big game. They've been ranked. We want to be ranked. And this is for bragging rights."
This is an intense rivalry, but not the kind that draws harsh or angry statements.
"This is a great rivalry," McFadden said, "but it's not the end of the world. You have to keep some perspective. I'm competitive as all hell, (but if we lose) I'm not going to go home and kick the dog. Though sometimes I have felt like it."
With both teams featuring a number of local players, many of the Aztecs and Toreros are friends and have played together on club teams. One, USD forward Chugger Adair, transferred from SDSU two years ago.
McFadden and Clegg are friends as well and have been since they were both defenders at SDSU under then Aztec coach George Logan in the early 1970s.
And while Clegg and McFadden like to kid one another whenever possible, they both have immense respect for each other and their programs. And rightfully so.
USD was one of the highest scoring teams in the nation last year and figures to be among the leaders again this season.
Paul Gelvezon, a senior from Mira Mesa High and Mesa College, led the Toreros with 31 points in 1990 and has a team-leading eight this year after scoring four goals against Point Loma Nazarene on Tuesday. Adair, a junior from Hilltop High, and Toby Taitano, a sophomore from Valhalla, were third and fifth in scoring last year.
The Toreros' defense isn't bad either, though it will miss sweeper Trong Nguyen, an All-American last year as a senior. Nguyen's presence helped sophomore Tom Tate (USDHS) emerge as one of the top goalies on the West Coast last year (0.92 goals-against average) despite being only 5-feet-9 and 165 pounds.
"He's short, but boy he's tough," said McFadden. "I'll never forget the time in the seventh grade, he took a dive on the concrete to make a save. I said to myself, 'I'm going to keep an eye on that crazy kid.' And here he is. He's got a real goalkeeper's mentality. He's quiet and deadly."
SDSU, on the other hand, is not quite as potent offensively, but the Aztecs do control the ball well at midfield and have enough veterans in the backfield adept at keeping the ball out of the net.
Goal scoring has been limited to only three players this year, but two of them were among the national leaders coming into the week. Craft-Negrete, a senior out of El Cajon Valley High, was tied for seventh in the NCAA with seven points (three goals and an assist), and Bill Demke, a sophomore, was tied for 14th with six points (three goals). Dan LaFond, a senior transfer from Cal Lutheran, has the Aztecs' other two goals, both coming in a 2-1 victory Tuesday over his former team.
Craft-Negrete, who once high-jumped seven feet for the Aztec track team, is particularly tough on corner kicks and lob passes in front of the goal.
Three other returning starters are midfielders Patrick Merrell and Andy Morrone and defenseman Dain DeForest, a senior transfer from UC San Diego.
"We have a style of play that we would like to play," Craft-Negrete said. "It's just that we're fairly young, and we haven't put it together for a full game yet.
"We're a little more defense-minded (than USD), and we try to mark a little more. They are a very skillful team, but if we play them tight, we'll definitely have our chances to put them away."