Cal Poly men’s soccer opened conference play this week, splitting their first two matches in Big West play at Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
The Mustangs tied their program record with five straight wins after defeating UC Riverside 3-1 Thursday night, but broke the streak Saturday night against CSU Fullerton. Ultimately, they fell 1-0 after the Titans scored on a controversial penalty kick.
Cal Poly broke through early against the Highlanders, scoring in the 15th minute. Senior midfielder Tyler Savitsky evaded a UC Riverside defender with a brilliant half turn and then lofted a ball onto the chest of fellow senior forward Kaba Alkebulan, who slotted it into the left-hand corner of the goal.
“I looked up and, you know, the run dictates the pass,” Savitsky said. “He was making a great run so I just hit it and hoped for the best and he did a great job in finishing it.”
The lead was short-lived for the Mustangs as a miscommunication on defense led to an equalizing goal for the Highlanders in the 34th minute by sophomore forward Anthony Lopez.
At halftime, the score was deadlocked at one a piece.
“That the only real opportunity we gave up was a mistake by us,” Head Coach Steve Sampson said.
The Mustangs came out in the second half in a 4-4-2 formation with a diamond in the midfield and went out pressing the Highlanders according to Coach Sampson.
This led to a lot of chances for the Mustangs as they tallied ten shots in the second half alone.
Just as it seemed the game might go to overtime, the pressure applied by the Mustangs finally paid off with a goal in the 80th minute by junior midfielder Jose Rivera.
“It caused [UC Riverside] to play under pressure, and I don’t think they could handle the speed of play,” Sampson said.
A mere six and a half minutes later, Savitsky scored his first goal as a Mustang to put the game away for Cal Poly.
“It was a great feeling,” Savitsky said.
The Mustangs were in a good position to push their win streak to six games but a controversial penalty kick awarded the Titans a game-winning free kick.
The loss stopped the Mustang’s win streak just short of breaking the program record.
The game-deciding goal came after the referees whistled Cal Poly for a foul and granted Cal State Fullerton a free kick that managed to escape junior goalkeeper Simon Boehme for the score.
“I don’t think it was a penalty,” Coach Sampson said. “I think it was a very soft call. I don’t like to be critical of referees, but I think referees sometimes have poor games just like players. I think that was a mistake. I think the video will show it.”
The penalty kick was the only point in the game that Cal State Fullerton managed to put pressure on Cal Poly. The Mustang’s defense held the Titans to just three shots on goal, two of which were saved by Boehme. All of the Titans’ shots on goal came within the first 30 minutes of the game.
“I think we managed pretty well to keep them at bay,” Boehme said. “We did our job. I thought we were the better team today and it was just unfortunate it didn’t go our way today.”
The Mustangs’ offense started slowly, recording only three shots in the first half.
“The lines, when they stay organized, are very hard to penetrate,” junior forward Sean Goode said. “I think we did alright going forward, but its just about finishing chances.”
Near the 72-minute mark, the Mustangs’ offense came to life, attempting four shots on goal during the next ten minutes. Goode attempted three shots on goal and Alkebulan attempted one. However, the Titans’ goalie saved three of the shots and Titan defender Sam Moltz managed a last-minute sliding deflection of a shot by Goode.
“I think we just upped the pressure,” Goode said. “There’s no fault in effort, there’s no fault in opportunity. I think we just had to finish our chances and not much else.”
Cal Poly players and coaches said this loss won’t define the team going forward.
“I think we’ll be just fine,” Boehme said. “It’s one of these we’ve just got to move on from. I thought we were the better team without a doubt. So it’s unlucky, it’s unfortunate, but we’ll be just fine. We’ll move on and we’ll be stronger next time.”