[follow id = “CPMustangSports”]
UC Davis (6-1-8, 4-1-1 Big West Conference) lived up to its hard-nosed, in-your-face reputation on the pitch, and an undermanned Cal Poly men’s soccer team (8-4-3, 3-2-1) was unable to find an answer to the only goal scored in the match, falling 1-0 to the Aggies.
“This is the pinnacle of direct soccer,” interim head coach Phil Ruskin said after Wednesday night’s home game at Alex G. Spanos Stadium. “We were going to play soccer, they were not. They always wanted to play extremely direct.”
The physicality of the Aggies affected the game right off the bat, with hectic play and a few hotly contested balls resulting in a yellow card for each team within the first 25 minutes.
“We’re always expecting the physicality of the game,” junior midfielder Chase Minter said. “Our coaches kind of preached to us before the game, ‘today’s gonna be a war,’ and I think we came out expecting it. They embrace the physical side of the game.”
The Mustangs’ game plan for defending against the direct play was effective, though, until the 64th minute, when UC Davis senior forward Matt Sheldon beat junior goalkeeper Wade Hamilton to his left on a ball played into the box by freshman forward Noah Wilson.
“I don’t come away from this game feeling that we didn’t play our way,” Ruskin said. “I don’t come away feeling disappointed. We made one mistake and unfortunately in the game of soccer that can be the difference.”
Hamilton had an otherwise brilliant performance Wednesday, making four huge saves on the night and upping his Big West-leading save percentage to more than .800. Hamilton could also be heard from far up the Spanos stands, as he pointed and shouted while holding together a patchwork Cal Poly defense.
“[He’s] huge,” Ruskin said. “You look at two massive saves in the first half and certainly another one in the second. One of the things that makes me extremely excited about players playing out of position is that we always have Wade.”
Both centerbacks, freshman Nick Carroll and sophomore Brett Foreman, as well as sophomore defender Sean Dhillon who was suspended for the match with five yellow cards, were part of the reason Cal Poly could only muster two shots on goal Wednesday.
“I’m pleased with the group as a whole,” Ruskin added. “It’s not necessarily giving up too much as much as it is we just don’t have the personnel right now to play guys in positions. Obviously we want to worry about our defending and sometimes that means you’ve got to take guys out of their natural positions to compensate for what we don’t have.”
Players don’t seem to be too concerned, either, praising the next-man-up mentality of the team rather than dwelling on misfortunes.
“[I’m] not too concerned,” Minter said, “Obviously it’s disappointing, things we can’t control with guys being out. Some of our good guys in the midfield who help us go forward were having to play a bit more of a defensive role today.”
The Mustangs hope to return at least four of their usual starters this week in time for Saturday’s huge match against UC Santa Barbara at Harder Stadium. The team also will look forward to playing a more traditional brand of soccer and leaving UC Davis in the rear-view.
“Santa Barbara certainly tries to play a lot more,” Ruskin said. “It should be a proper soccer match.”
Saturday’s Blue-Green Rivalry match is set to kick-off at 7:30 p.m.