Cal Poly Men’s Soccer fell to Cal State Fullerton 2-0 in the first round of the Big West Tournament on Wednesday, Nov. 6 inside Alex G. Spanos Stadium. The defeat marked the end of the season for the Mustangs, who produced a 7-9-1 overall record en route to their first postseason appearance since 2015.
“We’re disappointed right now, not because we weren’t good enough, but because we didn’t reward ourselves with the goals,” junior midfielder Emmanuel Perez said. “We saw a clear path to the finals and to winning the Big West [Tournament]… We didn’t reward ourselves.”
The Mustangs were provided a golden opportunity within the first minute of the match due to a Titan handball inside the penalty box. Senior forward Diego Alonso stepped up to take the penalty, but his shot missed wide left to keep the match level at 0-0.
“[It was] unfortunate, the circumstances in the first minute of the game, because I think that somewhat changes the dynamic of the game,” head coach Steve Sampson said.
Sophomore goalkeeper Carlos Arce-Hurtado made his first save of the night minutes later in a one-on-one situation against Titan forward Christain Pinzon. The Mustangs sent several crosses into the penalty box in the ensuing minutes, but the chances were deflected away by the Titan defense.
In the 22nd minute, Cal State Fullerton midfielder Sebastian Cruz went on a solo run down the middle of the field before he split the Mustang defense with a through ball to forward Owen Lambe. One touch was all Lambe needed to fire the ball past Arce-Hurtado and put the Titans up 1-0.
The Mustangs nearly erased their deficit in the 35th minute with a cross by Alonso into the Cal State Fullerton penalty box. The cross found the feet of graduate forward Spencer Held, but the chance was thwarted by Titan goalkeeper Paul-Andre Guerin.
In an almost identical play no more than two minutes later, Perez sent a cross into the feet of junior forward Angel De Leon. Despite the precise cross, De Leon was unable to put the ball into the back of the net as the first half came to a close with the Titans ahead 1-0.
“I think [Cal State Fullerton] brought an enormous amount of intensity in the first half,” Sampson said. “I think that was the difference… They took advantage of their opportunities and we didn’t.”
Cal Poly opened the second half of the match with a corner kick in the 46th minute. The cross found the head of junior defender Josh Graham before being deflected past the right post of the Titan goal.
In the 63rd minute, Titan midfielder Oscar Flores sent a long ball over the top of the Mustang defense to fellow midfielder Jessy Sotelo. The midfielder collected the pass with two touches before sending the ball past the left side of Arce-Hurtado. Despite a diving effort by the goalkeeper, the shot deflected off the left post and went into the net for a 2-0 Fullerton lead.
Graham produced a threatening header off an Andrew Robertson corner kick in the 69th minute. However, Guerin came up with another save to deny the opportunity. In response, Cal Poly pushed players up the field in a desperate search for its first goal.
The Mustangs were denied again in the 88th minute as senior defender Rigas Rigopoulos made back-to-back shots in the Cal State Fullerton penalty box. The opportunity fell short after a Guerin save and a deflection kept the Mustangs without a goal.
Cal Poly failed to cut its deficit in the final two minutes as Cal State Fullerton finished out the 2-0 victory to advance in the Big West Tournament.
Despite the postseason defeat, Sampson said he was proud of the team for creating opportunities and playing a “beautiful brand of soccer” throughout the season.
“I think [this season] had a lot of impact on the culture of Men’s Soccer here at Cal Poly,” Sampson said. “[I am] so proud of so many of the games… I think people now respect us in the Big West. We have played every single team in this conference tough and I don’t think they’re going to take us lightly going forward.”