On Saturday, Oct. 27, the Cal Poly Men’s Soccer team will be playing in what could be their last game of the 2018 season. In order to keep their season alive and advance to the Big West Tournament, the Mustangs must defeat Blue-Green rival UC Santa Barbara inside Harder stadium — a task accomplished only once in the last 20 seasons. While the games crowd of over 10,000 people may be daunting, there are two Cal Poly freshmen who could make the difference in the Mustangs most important game of the year: freshman forward Reagan Rice and freshman defender Brecc Evans.
“When we were at Spanos Stadium, there were 11,000 people there. I’ve never played, but I’ve heard rumors that in Santa Barbara, it can be even louder,” said Brecc Evans.
“When we were at Spanos Stadium, there were 11,000 people there. I’ve never played, but I’ve heard rumors that in Santa Barbara, it can be even louder”
While Rice and Evans both had similar paths to the Cal Poly Men’s Soccer team, their stories began over 9,000 miles apart.
Evans grew up on the outskirts of Los Angeles in Culver City, California. As a result of his parents pushing him to try different sports at a young age, Evans eventually signed up for youth league soccer and quickly found his match.
“Almost immediately I was put with the older kids because I was more developed and taller for my age,” Evans said. “Ever since that first year, I’ve always loved soccer.”
Rice also started playing soccer at a young age, but his earliest memories of the sport took place on the streets of Uganda, where he was born. After moving to California at the age of ten, Rice said he experienced some culture shock at seeing the technology and development of America.
“At first it wasn’t [easy], but now it’s like I was born here,” Rice said. “I came in to a great family to help me transition.”
From there, both players landed a spot on a Major League Soccer Developmental Academy team.
MLS Academy teams compete as the top tier of competitive youth soccer in the United States. The programs consistently draft players to both the MLS and the U.S. men’s national team.
Evans, who played for FC Dallas Academy, said he attributes all his current success to the experience he gained with the team.
“It kind of gives you this sense of purpose while you’re there,” Evans said. “You can see the direct pathway to the next level, which is becoming a professional. It encourages you to work harder every single day.”
Rice shared the same impression and said his time playing with Sporting KC Academy prepared him for collegiate soccer.
“While being around that professional environment, you have to come to training every day prepared,” Rice said. “There are no off days, because when you have off days, someone else is taking your spot. People are trying to get contracts, so having that professional mindset every day makes you prepared for anything.”
During the college recruiting process, Rice and Evans were drawn to Cal Poly because of its location, facilities and coaching staff. The duo quickly made an impact on the team and became head coach Steve Sampson’s go-to freshmen early in the year.
Evans, who stands six feet four inches tall, has started in every Cal Poly game this year as a defender. Backed by senior goalkeeper Simon Boehme, the Mustangs’ defensive players have helped register five shutouts for the 2018 season leading up to their final conference game against UC Santa Barbara.
Although Evans is a defender, he has still managed to secure seven shots on goal this year— including his first career goal for the Mustangs in a 2-0 victory against Westmont on Sep. 22.
Rice’s first year at Cal Poly was not as fortunate, as he missed the first half of the season due to tendinitis in his knee.
After taking some time to heal, Rice found himself starting at forward for the Mustangs in their last three conference matches. He even scored his first career goal for Cal Poly in their 3-0 home triumph against Sacramento State on Oct. 17.
“It was tough seeing everyone playing while being on the sidelines and not being able to enjoy what I love to do, which is play soccer,” Rice said. “I worked every day trying to do everything I could [in order to] practice and play a couple games. Toward the end of the season I was able to do that so I’m really excited and looking forward to next year.”
Cal Poly (5-8-2, 1-4-1 Big West) currently sits in eighth place in the Big West Conference standings with four points following a heartbreaking double-overtime loss against conference leaders UC Irvine on Oct. 21. Three of the Mustangs’ six conference matches have reached double-overtime, but Cal Poly only secured one point from the three games with a 1-1 draw against UC Davis in the conference opener on Oct. 3.
The Mustangs final game of the regular season against UC Santa Barbara on Oct. 27. kicks off at 5 pm inside Harder Stadium. The Gauchos (9-6-1, 3-2-1 Big West) have already qualified for the Big West Tournament and are ranked 33rd among NCAA Division I programs.
Looking ahead of what could be the Mustangs final game of the season, Rice and Evans shared their hopes and expectations for the following years in San Luis Obispo.
“My hopes are to be more healthy next year, help the team more from the beginning of the season, get a lot more playing time and just get stronger,” Rice said.
“My hopes are to be more healthy next year, help the team more from the beginning of the season, get a lot more playing time and just get stronger”
Evans mentioned how much Sampson has taught him in just one year at Cal Poly, and is excited to learn from him going forward.
“Were getting a few transfers next year who are supposed to come in and make an immediate impact and I think all the guys who aren’t graduating out improved immensely this year,” Evans said. “We’re going to be working hard in the off season and get stronger and sort out all those things that didn’t go according to plan this year so that next year it’ll show in the games.”