The Cal Poly men’s soccer team played Major League Soccer’s (MLS) San Jose Earthquakes to a 0-0 draw and dropped a 1-0 decision to the Colorado Rapids on Saturday afternoon in a pair of 35-minute scrimmage affairs inside Alex G. Spanos Stadium. The preseason clashes featured players who didn’t play — or played limited minutes — in Friday night’s MLS Showcase for both professional squads.
The truncated matches were the first installments of the spring season for the Mustangs, and their first game action since finishing the 2011 season with a deflating 2-0 away loss to rival UC Santa Barbara in November.
Cal Poly finished the 2011 campaign 0-4-1, scoring just one goal in its final five matches. The Mustangs slotted 15 goals in 18 total matches throughout the season — good enough for last place in goals in the Big West. Because preseason matches only signal the beginning of training for next season, the squad was not worried about last season’s end-of-year performance; nevertheless, the team’s lack of scoring is still on players’ minds, according to junior forward Benny Estes.
“Being an attacking player, I know that it’s something we need to work on,” Estes said. “What we really need to work on is finishing that final opportunity. Because it’s spring right now, we’re working on just getting those opportunities, but come fall season, we’re going to be finishing those opportunities.”
The Mustangs exclusively played juniors or younger in the scrimmages and used a rotating lineup throughout the afternoon to maximize player involvement. The team will graduate seven seniors next year, including defensive stalwarts Patrick Sigler and Wes Feighner.
The Mustangs adopted a new formation at Saturday’s scrimmages, using a 4-3-3 in an attempt to kick start the offense by “building out of the back,” head coach Paul Holocher said.
In the first match of the day, San Jose controlled much of the possession and saw the majority of scoring chances throughout the 35 minutes.
Former UC Santa Barbara standout and sixth overall pick in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft Sam Garza found himself 1-on-1 with freshmen goalkeeper Chase Hauser following a through pass from an Earthquake forward, but was turned away on a diving save 10 minutes in.
The Earthquakes were denied their best scoring opportunity of the match at the 15-minute mark when freshman defender Chris Fisher cleared a ball off the Cal Poly goal line following a San Jose corner kick that pin-balled in the area before finding Fisher’s foot.
In the waning stages of the match, Garza was fouled just outside the penalty area by sophomore midfielder George Malki, but the Earthquakes failed to capitalize on the ensuing free kick.
Holocher said his team needed to make a few tactical adjustments following the first game, but overall was pleased with the performance.
“We spoke a little bit about the shape of our team,” Holocher said. “In (that) first game, our positional play wasn’t as good. We were passing the ball when guys weren’t in the best spots.”
The Mustangs heeded the advice in the second match against Colorado as they were able to control possession and play in the offensive third of the pitch throughout the match. They out-shot the Rapids on the day, including several 1-on-1 scoring chances by forwards Chris Gaschen and Ian Clark, who were stonewalled by Rapids trialist goalkeeper Joel Helmick.
But just past 20 minutes in, a breakdown on the Cal Poly backline led to the lone goal of the game as the Mustangs got caught deep in the defensive third, allowing for Colorado forward Andre Akpan to slip behind the center back. Hauser came off his line to challenge the breakaway opportunity but tripped the forward to earn the Rapids a penalty kick.
Akpan slotted home his attempt from the spot into the right corner as Hauser guessed left to give the Rapids a 1-0 advantage, which would hold up until the final whistle.
“We were playing a little frantic and nervous (in the first game),” Malki said. “The second game, we trusted ourselves, and we used our goalie to build out, and it worked. We got into good spots and made the field big, but unfortunately, we didn’t get the goals.”
Overall, Holocher said he was pleased with the teams’ performance against the two professional squads, and now, he said his squad is solely focused on next season.
“We’re not even thinking about last year,” Holocher said. “It’s just about moving forward, and we’re excited about the spring and the games, and we’re excited about the group coming in.”