Sept. 14, 2009
This article first appeared in the Cal Football Kickoff Game Day Magazine, Sept. 12, 2009
For Evan Sassano, playing soccer seems to be just part of the family business.
A senior defender for the Golden Bears, he is one of four siblings who grew up with the game in the Bay Area and one of two who has played collegiately at California.
Danielle (27), Luke (23), Evan (21) and Eric (18) Sassano are all products of nearby Orinda. Luke, a 2008 Cal alumnus, is now a professional player for the New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer. Sister Danielle played in the midfield for UC Santa Cruz and brother Eric is a senior midfielder/defender for Miramonte High School.
Evan and Luke both played on the same club team, with their father, Matthew, serving as coach. But in those early days, Danielle, who was six years older than Evan, was the best of the group.
"She always played Luke and me really hard," he said. "Luke and I were always competing back and forth. He would often win because he was bigger. I would always try to beat him, and he didn't want to lose to me. I kept getting better trying to chase him. My sister didn't want to lose to either one of us either. At some point, Luke and I grew bigger than her, though."
Luke was part of four NCAA College Cup appearances at Cal, including the 2005 season when the Bears reached the round of eight -- Cal's deepest run in the tournament ever.
Evan followed Luke to Cal and the two were Golden Bear teammates for two years. After playing in three games as a freshman, Evan became a starter for Cal as a sophomore in 2007, playing alongside Luke in the latter's final year as a Bear.
Last season, the 6-0, 150-pound Evan was a member of a stingy defense that allowed just 17 goals and produced a 0.76 goals-against average, which ranked 22nd in the nation. After a second-place finish in the Pac-10, the Bears advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA College Cup following a double-overtime victory over UC Santa Barbara in the second round.
"Evan's been a very good player for us the last three seasons," Cal head coach Kevin Grimes said. "He's a player we can put in a lot of positions as well as in the backfield. He has a lot of experience under his belt. He gives us that versatility and experience that is critical throughout the season."
Not happy just playing soccer last season, Evan used his free time to serve as an assistant coach at Miramonte High for a 2008 Matador team that featured the last of the soccer-playing Sassano family, youngest brother Eric.
"The program needed some help," Evan said. "I went back and to see if I could help out in any way and to be closer to my brother. He was the youngest, almost like an only child. When the three of us were growing up, we always had siblings around our age."
For the 2009 season, Sassano's focus is back on the field and trying to send the Bears to their ninth consecutive NCAA Tournament. Every major preseason poll ranks Cal in the top 10, with the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) pegging Cal as the No. 8 team in the nation and Soccer America magazine ranking the Bears at No. 7. It will be a challenging season for Cal with the Bears facing four teams that saw action in the 2008 NCAA postseason, including No. 1-ranked Maryland. It is a challenge that Evan and the rest of the Bears relish.
"I think we're strongest we've ever been," said Evan. "It's a good squad, and we have lots of guys who could play off the bench. In case you get tired or have injuries, there are guys ready to go. Last year we had a good season but got knocked out by the eventual champs. It's hard to tell early in season when we're just playing against each other where we're at, but we have great team chemistry."
After graduating, Evan would not be opposed to a family reunion somewhere on an MLS soccer field.
"It's always been a dream of mine, to play professionally," he said. "I'm going to try my best to take soccer as far as I can in my life and see where it goes. For now I'm 100 percent focused on this season, trying to do the best we can as a team. I'll think about that later. Right now we want to get some championships, Pac-10, national, anything we can."