Senior David Zamora finished as the Mustangs leading scorer in two of his three seasons, but has yet to score in 2010. Ryan Sidarto – Mustang Daily

Cal Poly men’s soccer (2-3-1), already off to a better start than last year, is looking to improve upon its second place finish in 2009-2010, and capture a Big West Conference title.

Cal Poly completed last season with an 8-10-2 record overall, and finished second in the Big West, behnd UC Santa Barbara. Cal Poly advanced to the Big West semifinals but fell to UC Irvine in double-overtime, 2-1.

This season Cal Poly had four of their five All-Big West selections return: David Zamora, Patrick McLain, Jacob Hustedt and Patrick Sigler.  The Mustangs lost five of their ten starters, but have kept all four goalkeepers from last year and brought in nine new players, including one transfer, sophomore Chris Bernardi, from LMU.  This new Cal Poly team is young with 11 freshmen, 11 sophomores, seven juniors and two seniors.

Cal Poly struggled on the road last season and began the 2009-2010 campaign with four straight losses. So far this season, Cal Poly has posted a better record against a more difficult schedule this year which included eight games against teams that made the NCAA tournament last year. Those teams include No. 18 Indiana, Notre Dame, UCLA, Loyola Marymount, and two games versus UC Santa Barbara and UC Irvine each.

Cal Poly earned its first two wins of the season against Denver and No. 18 Indiana. Cal Poly demonstrated its resolve in both games with a last minute goal and shutout performance. Sophomore Chris Gaschen scored his first goal of the season in the 88th minute against Denver while Bernardi scored in the 83rd minute against Indiana. Cal Poly won both games 1-0.

Cal Poly registered its first loss against Air Force, when both teams acquired two red cards each. Junior Tim White scored first for Cal Poly in the 14th minute, but a penalty kick for Air Force in the 65th minute tied the game.  After the penalty, Cal Poly took only one shot on goal before Air Force claimed victory with a header from Conor Henry in the 97th minute.  Cal Poly has won one of its last seven overtime games since the start of the 2009 season.

Before returning home for a three-game homestand, Notre Dame defeated Cal Poly 5-1. It was the worst point total surrendered since a 2005 home game against UC Riverside when Cal Poly lost 5-0.

In the first home match since the start of the school year, Cal Poly tied No. 17 UCLA in front of 8,717 fans, the 10th-largest regular season crowd in NCAA history. Despite offensively outshooting the Bruins 22 to 11, Cal Poly was unable to put one past junior goalkeeper Brian Rowe. Even though they weren’t able to record a win, the UCLA game and the zealous Cal Poly fans have kept the Mustangs motivated.

Bernardi said the highlight of his time with Cal Poly has been the fans.

“Playing in this atmosphere here at Cal Poly, words can’t explain it. You get crowds out here that we didn’t get (at LMU),” Bernardi said.

Cal Poly followed its game against UCLA with a slow offensive and defensive game against LMU. Cal Poly gave up the most shots on goal (11), and took the second fewest shots (9) of the season.

Head coach Paul Holocher, in his fifth season as coach, said his team needs to focus on playing at their maximum potential through all games.

“We are too inconsistent.  We seem to have one good performance against a good team and then one poor performance,” Holocher said.

Holocher said Cal Poly also has to work on its offense and converting its shots into goals.

“We need to figure out how to score more goals. We’re struggling to score and in certain situations we’re creating opportunities. Against UCLA we had 22 shots but we didn’t produce enough quality chances,” Holocher said.

At this point last season Cal Poly was averaging 1.5 goals per game; this year, they are averaging almost half that at 0.83 goals per game. Cal Poly has yet to score more than one goal in any of their first six games.

Senior David Zamora, who led the team last year with seven goals and 40 shots, is currently leading the team with 15 shots and two assists, but has yet to score this season. Even though their offensive has not been as productive as last year, Zamora is satisfied with their better start to the season and is positive about the future.

“We got two wins in a row in which we came back. And last (year) we came back home zero and four and this (year) we beat two ranked teams. And getting the biggest home crowd against UCLA was really good for our team and our morale,” Zamora said.

Cal Poly has had multiple players step up as each of Cal Poly’s five goals this season have come from different players. Gaschen, White, Bernardi, Hustedt and junior Cameron Walters have each scored goals for Cal Poly this season.

With less offensive productivity than last year, Cal Poly has managed to win with lock-down performances from their starting goalie McLain. McLain has earned three individual or combined shutouts in four appearances. As of Sept. 22, McLain leads all conferences goalies with a .917 save percentage and 5.5 saves per match. Disregarding a penalty shot against Air Force on Sept. 5, McLain has allowed just one goal from open play in 367 minutes this season.

Since the 2007 season, Cal Poly has a (21-5-4) record with only two losses against Big West teams at Alex G. Spanos Stadium. With seven remaining home games and four away, Cal Poly is hoping to continue its success at home.

Only one non-conference game remains against Cal State Bakersfield (4-1-0) before Cal Poly begins their Big West schedule. Cal State Bakersfield has averaged 1.8 goals per game while only allowing two goals in its first five games this season.

Maybe one of the must anticipated games on Cal Poly’s schedule will be at home against conference rival, UC Santa Barbara, on Oct. 27. The game will be broadcasted on the Fox Soccer Channel.

Cal Poly’s last three home games versus Santa Barbara have drawn record attendances — each game has been on the top 16 most attended regular season games in the history of Division-I NCAA soccer. In the “Blue Green Rivalry,” Cal Poly drew the 16th largest crowd with 7,143 in 2007, the 7th largest crowd with 9,824 in 2009 and the 5th largest crowd in 2008 with 11,075.

Cal Poly has managed to pull in more than 1,000 fans to 25 of its last 30 home games and Bernardi said he hopes fans will keep coming and show their support for the team.

“We do it for the fans, we love our fans and we can’t give more respect to the fans. We want them to keep coming out whether we’re on top or we’re losing,” Bernardi said.

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