Ryan Chartrand

He stood at the side of the bench, hand on his chin, like a person deep in thought. Players were on the sidelines chatting with friends and parents, assistant coaches were packing up and he stood there with a straight face, a look that could be interpreted many ways.

Maybe he was pissed off, irritated after his team had a shot to knock off second place UC Irvine. Maybe he was frustrated with fate after seeing several fantastic scoring opportunities ruined by defenders standing on the goal line. Or maybe he was content with fate after watching two Anteater shots bounce off the goal posts.

If only for an instant, Cal Poly men’s soccer coach Paul Holocher had that look a coach might have after a double-overtime scoreless tie in the midst of a playoff race. His look said, “It could’ve been better, but it could’ve been worse . I wish it had been better.”

The Mustangs (7-6-4 overall, 3-3-2 Big West) aren’t having a glamorous season. They have an outside shot to make the NCAA Tournament if they can manage to make and win the Big West Turnament – one of those “If team ‘A’ loses to team ‘B’ and we beat team ‘C,’” situations.

In other words, the Mustangs aren’t exactly the New York Yankees of the collegiate soccer world right now. Unless my judgment was impaired by the Arctic-like climate Saturday night at the Sports Complex, I think I’ve made a fair assessment.

However, look at what the Detroit Tigers have done to turn around their long history of losing – they’re playing in the World Series.

Cal Poly probably won’t win a national championship this year, but the program has rapidly improved.

For awhile, Cal Poly was considered an easy game on the schedule. It was a game where you could rest your top players, play a little sloppy and probably still pull off the win. But that’s not the case anymore.

Holocher has changed the face of Cal Poly soccer in one season. What’s more, he’s doing it with young players.

Jose Garcia, the leading goal-scorer: freshman. Jeff Meyer Jr., second in goals: sophomore. Eric Branagan-Franco, second in the Big West in goals-against: sophomore.

Cal Poly might not play in the postseason this year. They might not even make it next year. Playing against established programs like UC Santa Barbara and Cal State Northridge is no easy task. But at least the program has hope.

It might be two or three seasons before Cal Poly plays in the NCAA Tournament, or maybe longer. But it seems feasible that the team might achieve that goal. In years past, that hasn’t been the case.

Maybe Holocher wasn’t thinking about the scoreless tie when I saw him after the game. Maybe he had a sly grin on his face knowing that his young group just played one of the top teams in the conference to a draw – and they nearly pulled off the upset.

Maybe he was thinking that in five years, Cal Poly could be a perennial soccer power in the Big West.

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