Cal Poly men’s soccer (3-3-2) allowed three goals on eight shots against Denver (2-4-2) Sunday afternoon en route to its third loss of the season.
The Mustangs outshot their opponents for the seventh time in eight games this season but were unable to capitalize as the Pioneers left Alex G. Spanos Stadium with a 3-1 victory.
Trouble started early for the Mustangs as they conceded two goals within the opening 24 minutes of play. Denver forward Christian Volesky found the back of the net 13 minutes in for the first score of the match. A throw in from the sideline found its way into the box where it was touched by a Denver forward and finally corralled into the bottom left corner of the Cal Poly net by Volesky.
Senior defender Patrick Sigler attributes the early first half strike to Denver’s energetic style of play and confusion between the defense and senior goalkeeper Patrick McLain.
“It was a miscommunication between our backline and the keeper on the throw-in goal,” Sigler said. “I give them a lot of credit though. They came out with a lot more energy than we did in the first half.”
A little over ten minutes later the Pioneers found the net again. A driven ball over the top from a Denver defender found its way past the Mustangs backline to defender Drew Beckie where he was able to convert the one-on-one attempt against McLain.
Head coach Paul Holocher said the two goals within the opening 24 minutes were too much for the Mustangs to overcome.
“We gave up two early goals on two longer balls,” Holocher said. “We didn’t handle it well in the air, and all of sudden, we were two goals down. We dug ourselves a deep hole and from there we could never find the handles to score.”
Cal Poly’s first real scoring opportunity came in the 27th minute. Senior left back Wes Feighner was taken down on the attack by a Denver midfielder inside the penalty area. The Mustangs were granted a penalty kick, their first of the year. But sophomore midfielder George Malki wasn’t able to convert from the spot as his attempt was blocked by junior keeper Matt Aquirre. The missed opportunity broke the streak of eight successful penalty kicks converted by the Mustangs dating back to 2009.
The Mustangs made several changes to the lineup at half hoping to create more scoring chances and to solidify the defensive front. Most notably, freshman goalkeeper Chase Hauser was substituted in for McLain, and the offensive scheme was tweaked a bit in favor of having a more attacking mindset amongst the backline.
In the second half, opportunities for the Mustangs to break through presented themselves. In the 52nd minute, Sigler headed Malki’s corner kick off the crossbar, and in the 56th minute senior defender Cameron Walters found the crossbar as well. Freshman midfielder Keegan Smith’s attempt on goal in the 70th minute hit the post and ricocheted out.
Cal Poly was able to find the net in the 72nd minute as junior forward Benny Estes notched his first career goal as a Mustang. Estes took Walters’ free kick from the right side in stride and buried it into the back of the net to halve the Denver lead.
“I was on the back post and sprinted near (post) and the ball came to me,” Estes said. “I get up from falling and everyone’s cheering, it was a great feeling.”
They held Denver shot-less for the opening 35 minutes of the second half but couldn’t find a way past the Pioneer keeper.
“We’re having a tough time scoring goals,” Holocher said. “That puts us in a tough spot each game because we need to be near perfect defensively.”
Two minutes from full-time the Pioneers added a third goal as senior midfielder Matt Kirby buried the ball past Hauser after it was pin-balled by several Denver forwards and Cal Poly defenders in front of the Mustangs net. The goal marked the first time since September last season that the Mustangs allowed more than two goals in a single game.
The Mustangs start their Big West conference schedule at No. 8 UC Irvine away from home this Wednesday night. Cal Poly returns home on Oct. 5 to face UC Davis.