Luis Cortes / The Advocate
The start of the 2019 men’s soccer season was not a good one. It began with the firing of former coach Nikki Ferguson, which prompted the departure of many prominent players.
The move came on the heels of a decision by Athletic Director John Wade to cancel two pivotal games against Merritt College to end the 2018 season due to unsafe air quality because of raging California wildfires.
Wade followed guidelines set by the California Community College Athletic Association and Air Quality Index (AQI), which indicated that the air was not safe on the days of the games.
The cancellation led to the Comets missing the playoffs.
This season, the program remained in flux, which led to a dismal 2-16-1 record.
Comet midfielder Chris Chotov had high expectations at the beginning of the season, but his expectations soon changed following the tough season opener.
“We only had 12 eligible players in the first game of the season,” Chotov said. “Because of miscommunication, some people didn’t get their paperwork in. After the game I knew it was going to be a long and challenging season.”
The season began with no coach at the helm, leaving some questions around the program. Wade hired former men’s soccer coach and retired professor Rudy Zeller to coach the team.
Contra Costa College began the season scrounging for players. Recruits were in short supply and some players who did want to participate did not have the proper paperwork which led to eligibility problems.
CCC began the season going up against San Joaquin Delta College at home. The team was out manned and outplayed, leading to a season opening 6-0 loss.
From the day Zeller was hired as coach, some of his players did not agree with his tactics — or his style of play.
Chotov believed Zeller’s tactics were outdated and his style did not mesh with the roster CCC had.
“A lot of the players didn’t have respect for him as a coach. For me personally, soccer is a sport that has evolved and is continuing to evolve,” Chotov said. “I felt that Rudy (Zeller) wasn’t evolving.
“Rudy told us he last coached four years ago, but a lot of things in the sport have changed in four years. He brought the same style,” he said. “I just didn’t work out. At times we were frustrated with his tactics and methods.”
Sophomore midfielder Nick Silva held similar expectations as Chotov. Silva had expectations of making the playoffs before the season began, but things changed because of the losing.
“I wanted to make the playoffs at the beginning of the season, because we were in contention last year. All the losing early changed that,” Silva said.
Like many players, Silva saw flaws in Zeller’s strategies.
“In the first couple of practices we noticed he (Zeller) wasn’t a good coach,” Silva said.
The team lost the following three games being outscored 20-2 — including a 12-0 loss to Santa Rosa Junior College.
CCC lost all seven games it played in the month of November, leading to CCC beginning the season 0-9.
But the Comets soon earned their first win of the season, a thrilling 3-2 road victory against Yuba College. In that game CCC took a quick 2-0 lead into halftime, only to have the 49ers come back late in the game to tie it. But with four minutes to play in the game, Comet striker Eliezer
Musah scored the game winner, to end the losing streak.
But things continued to unravel for the team when down 3-0 at halftime in a game against Napa Valley College, Zeller told the team at halftime he would be quitting and letting his assistant and former Comet player Diego Garcia lead practice and take the coaching reins in the game.
The Comets ended up losing that game 6-0.
Sophomore defender Ryan Fretwell believed his team lost motivation after Zeller quit and it was hard for players to maintain a positive moral outlook.
“Yes, it affected the team. When the head coach of a team quits, what are you supposed to do. We looked up to him as our main leader, and he quit on us,” Fretwell said. “It was extremely frustrating for me and most of the team. Especially quitting in the middle of the game. It killed the whole team’s morale and made us not want to play anymore.”
Wade said Zeller didn’t quit, but just taking a step back, just like many coaches have done in the past.
“Zeller is still the coach of the team. He’s probably just taking a step back,” Wade said at the time,
Even with all the drama, the CCC players persevered and showed character aided by a new playing style. The Comets snatched a 2-1 win against Mendocino College on a late 20-yard screamer from defender Devin Martinez.
The win was the team’s second and final victory of the season.
Forward Musah said his team began to play better toward the end of the season because of the change in style and coach and thinks if Garcia had coached from the beginning the season would have been different.
“Toward the end we played better. If we had Diego (Garcia) from the beginning, it would have been better. After he (Zeller) stepped out it was much easier the rest of the season,” Musah said.
Because of the tough season and the drama that unfolded, it caused some uncertainty with players like Musah, who have dreams of transferring to a four-year university.
“I’m skeptical because we had a bad season, that my chances are very limited on getting a scholarship. It’s my last season at CCC,” he said.
Chotov said toward the end of the season Zeller would give players some tips, but ultimately, he just watched the games, picked up the balls and helped with the little things.
However, he was nowhere to be found the last two weeks of the season.
“Nobody paid attention to him (Zeller) after he quit. He offered to help us. He would give players in-game tips, but would really just pick up balls and cones,” Chotov said.
“It was frustrating because he didn’t show up in the last two weeks of the season. He was supposed to drive the van to the Merritt game and he never showed up — he just disappeared.”