Soccer Sidekicks Write New Chapter On The Pitch
by Mike Villamor, Assistant Commissioner - Communications
The contingent of players and coaches was headed back to the airport after a heated men’s soccer game at Maryland, one that featured a combined 39 fouls and four ejections.
Cal State Northridge assistant Yossi Raz had just experienced a thrilling moment in his young coaching career. The third-year aide had just served in his first head-coaching role against one of the sport’s top east coast powers, and he had helped direct his side to a 1-1 draw.
Pressed into a leadership opportunity, Raz called the shots for the final 35-plus minutes after longtime head coach Terry Davila had received a red card for stridently protesting a questionable red card on one of the Matador players.
Down to 10 players, up against a team headed by a couple of future USA National Team players in Graham Zusi and Omar Gonzalez, Raz navigated the Matadors through a hectic game and they left College Park with the tie.
Raz had done everything right that day except for one thing. He had taken the van to the wrong airport. The team had booked a round trip through Dulles Airport. He had taken them to Baltimore-Washington Airport.
Despite the wrong way move, the trajectory of Raz’s career path has pointed in the right direction, much of that credited to the influence of and relationship with Davila.
Thinking back to the Maryland game, Davila quipped, “So he stayed under control and I didn’t.”
As Davila reflected on that Maryland game, he marveled at the poise and brilliance of Raz under pressure cooker conditions. He sensed that one day Raz would deliver on his promise to become a head coach.
And deliver he did. After nine years on Davila’s staff, Raz became the head coach at Division II Cal Poly Pomona, compiling a 54-17-12 record in four seasons that included a trip to the 2015 NCAA Tournament championship match.
On January 19, 2017, Raz elevated to another perch in the coaching hierarchy. He became the fourth head coach in UC Irvine men’s soccer history.
Davila could not help but feel emotional at the knowledge that his former player, colleague and friend had been bestowed an opportunity to lead a rival Big West Conference program.
They had spent 13 years at CSUN battling together for excellence. Now they entered another chapter in the evolution of their relationship – as adversaries on the soccer pitch.
“It chokes me up a little bit right now,” said Davila. “It’s very emotional for me. He’s made it. He’s got his dream. He told me he was going to do it. And I knew he was going to do it.”
“UCI has been to the Sweet 16 before. Yossi is a great coach. When you add a great coach to a great environment, and have tradition, they’re going to do well.”
Loyalty and family are two central themes in the CSUN culture. Once you join that brotherhood, you are forever linked to it.
“Yossi and I are both fighters,” said Davila. “Both he and I are very emotional and we get into the game, and we have passion for the game, so one of us always had to stay under control.”
Raz’s association with CSUN didn’t begin as a coach. It was as a player.
He walked into Davila’s office in early 2000 with the desire to play soccer at CSUN. A native of Natanya, Israel, Raz had come to America after a stint in the Israeli Army, on a visit the world type of trip common for those who have completed their military duties.
He was much older than the typical incoming college student, more mature and well versed in the ways of the world.
But that didn’t mean his path wasn’t without barriers.
“At the time I wasn’t prepared to go to college,” said Raz. “I could play soccer, but my English wasn’t quite ready. I didn’t have the right documents; I didn’t get cleared from the NCAA.”
The 21-year old didn’t know that there were a whole host of tests he needed to take at the time. International soccer players are spotted on a majority of Division I soccer rosters in today’s collegiate landscape. Back in the early 2000’s, not the case.
“I knew about the SAT’s,” remembered Raz. “I passed that one quickly. I had to learn about all those other clearinghouse documents.”
With the help of Keith West, a then-assistant under Davila and currently CSUN’s women’s soccer head coach, Raz went through the arduous process to become eligible.
Davila recalled that Raz initially was supposed to go to Pasadena City College. But after passing an English proficiency test and the SAT, and persevering through a process that lasted for more than a year, Raz got clearance.
He was a perfect match for Davila’s program, reflective of a grinder’s mentality. Hard work is a hallmark of the CSUN way. Raz’s persistence and resilience in just getting into school would become a harbinger of how he’d perform as a player.
“The values of what Terry was then, and what Northridge and Terry are now, are very similar,” noted Raz. “Hard working, grinding, making sure it’s always tough to play against us. It was very clear to me back then, and it’s one of the things I’ve learned from him. Making sure my teams are always physically and emotionally ready to compete.”
Raz was an exceptional competitor in his four years donning the red and black Matador uniform. He was the first four-time recipient of All-Big West First Team honors, and one of only two players to have achieved that distinction in league history. He earned Big West Freshman of the Year accolades in 2001. By the time his eligibility expired in 2004, Raz had accumulated career numbers of 22 goals and 28 assists, the latter figure still fifth all-time in school annals.
He also was a core member of the 2003 Big West championship team, the program’s first title and a significant source of pride for him.
Raz also worked diligently in the classroom, becoming president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and getting selected for the NCAA Leadership Conference.
Davila knew he had something special very early on.
“He used to sell paintings and he barely spoke English,” Davila recounted. “And he was a great salesman. He just has a wonderful attitude and disposition about him. He’s a very intelligent man, he’s very persistent, and he’s very thorough about everything he does.”
The pupil and the mentor have spent many hours together over the nearly two decades since Raz arrived in America. Both families know each other well. Raz has helped develop Taylor Davila, a nephew of Terry and verbal commit to play soccer at California.
Raz whetted his coaching chops almost immediately after finishing his playing career. He helped out Davila with his club teams, including Real So Cal. He liked dissecting the game, and soaking in all aspects. He also got to work under Steve Sampson, the current Cal Poly men’s head coach and former USA National Team coach, as director of his Global Sports Institute Academy.
At one time, Davila oversaw both men’s and women’s programs at Northridge. When West was chosen to become head coach of the women’s side, Davila welcomed Raz into the Matador coaching hierarchy. At first he spent time coaching the wingers and helping with recruiting for the women’s program. But once West took over the full reins, Davila needed a right-hand man on his men’s staff.
Raz was the guy.
“That’s probably the biggest step I made to get where I am today,” Raz admitted.
Davila recounted another story in which Raz was thrust into a decision-making role.
CSUN was hosting defending national champion Akron in September 2011.
“We got a red card in the first 15 minutes,” Davila said. “I said, ‘Yos, man, give me an adjustment quick. Think.’
“Yossi came out with an incredible game plan, and we tied it up 1-1, and it was an incredible moment.”
The Matadors lost a man in the 18th minute when a player received his second yellow card. CSUN fell behind minutes later, but tied it up in the 82nd. According to Davila, Raz maneuvered the midfielders and came up with a plan of attack, how they would capitalize on opportunities, and the amount of opportunities they’d probably have being a man down.
“He was right on cue with it,” Davila said.
With both individuals being passionate and opinionated – often necessary traits in the DNA of a successful competitor – opportunities to butt heads arose on occasion. It could only be expected.
Perhaps the coaching bug was planted in an exchange they had during Raz’s junior year when the team was doing a shooting drill on the practice field.
“He thought it was impossible to make this run,” said Davila. “He thought it was too far away. And I said ‘this is what I want to do, and you got to try and do it, or quit and start your own team. Or start working for me, and help me out.”
“He suggested that I get on his staff junior year. That if you don’t want to play harder then maybe we should move you to be a coach.”
But Davila knew that that outspokenness didn’t come from disrespect. In fact, it was quite the opposite.
“It was out of love,” Davila said. “I knew he would never try to embarrass me. Yossi’s pure. He’s like a brother to me.”
Now the two brothers are once again fighting for a common goal. But this time, they are pitted against each other.
The battle for the Big West South Division crown intensified last Saturday when CSUN and UC Irvine played at Matador Soccer Field, Raz’s old stomping grounds. The Matadors came away with the 3-2 win.
Prior to that match, Davila lamented the situation.
“I hate this day. I don’t want this day to come. I don’t want to play against my brother, but I have to,” he said. “I’ve got to think of it as UCI against Northridge, not Yossi and Terry. Yossi just represents UC Irvine and I just represent Cal State Northridge. I’ve got to look at it that way.”
Raz also downplayed the notion that one game could be about just two people, as important the link may be between them.
“(Our relationship) is evolving even more because we get to compete against each other. It’s cool; it’s gimmicky. But it’s not about Yossi or Terry,” Raz echoed. “It’s about Irvine and Northridge trying to grab points in the Big West.”
Going into the final three games of the regular season, CSUN sits atop the South with 11 points. UCI is third with eight points.
Round two takes place this Saturday in Irvine. The Anteaters need a win to pull into a tie with the Matadors.
Regardless of the outcome, Raz relishes the role Davila has played in his life.
“He’s one of the most important people I’ve met and spent time with in America,” Raz said. “I have a great appreciation for what he’s done for me. Terry is a great human being.”