After a season in which the Mustangs collected double-digit victories (11) and went undefeated at home, Cal Poly came up two goals shy of advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Mustangs (11-5-5) lost a match to UCLA (11-8-1) for the second time this season and the 2-0 Thursday night defeat at Drake Stadium marking the final match of the year for Cal Poly.
The first half of play was much like any match the Mustangs have played this season. Two inaccurate open-net opportunities for both sides led to a scoreless 45 minutes of play. Senior goalkeeper Wade Hamilton looked steady in the net, and the Cal Poly defense proved stout enough to stop any scoring from a dynamic Bruins offense.
After 10 minutes of play in the second half, the match still looked like it could go either way. Cal Poly kept pace with an up-tempo attack from UCLA and the match could have seemingly gone scoreless. But in the 59th minute, the Bruins landed what would end up being the difference in the match. A header off a corner kick was enough to put the Bruins up 1-0 with much of the match left to play.
“That was the first goal we gave up on a set piece all year,” senior midfielder Chase Minter said. “It’s not where we expected them to score, so kudos to them. After that, we just got stretched a little bit because we were trying to get one back.”
Despite their best effort, the Mustangs weren’t able to regain momentum after the first score. An offensive outburst that failed to convert on four shots on goal didn’t help matters.
Any hopes for a Cal Poly comeback were quietly put to rest when the Mustangs gave UCLA an own goal in the 77th minute. It wasn’t the way the Mustangs envisioned their season ending, but it doesn’t change the fact that the team played solid soccer for the majority of the season.
“I told the guys in the locker room before the game that this was probably the best Cal Poly team that I have been a part of in my four years here,” senior midfielder Matt LaGrassa said. “There are different dynamics within each year, but this season we found a way to win close matches quite often.”
Qualifying for the NCAA Tournament was a fine way for first-year head coach Steve Sampson to start off his Cal Poly career. While the Mustangs failed to advance to the second round, Sampson and company are well on their way to building a strong soccer program in San Luis Obispo.
“The brand of soccer we play is one that attracts great players,” Sampson said. “With all the success that we had this year, being ranked inside the top 30 nationally all season, we have already received a lot of interest. I have every expectation that our seniors are going to go professional, so that tells great players that Cal Poly is an avenue to the next level.”