Cal Poly men's soccer will look to take a step forward under new head coach Oige Kennedy. Credit: Maddie Harrell

Cal Poly men’s soccer recently had the worst defensive season of the program’s history. In 2022, the Mustangs gave up 2.82 goals per game, which resulted in 48 goals against on the season.

In his first head coaching gig at Division II college Fort Lewis in Colorado, new Mustangs head coach Olge Kennedy’s squad gave up 44 in his first three seasons combined.

Emphasis on defense

For Kennedy, a defensive performance like last season cannot happen. 

“That has really been the focus of our preseason training trying to put in step by step how we want to defend from the front of the field all the way to our own goal,” Kennedy said, who most recently was the lead assistant at Stanford for six years.

Cal Poly’s improved defensive prowess showed against UCLA, where the Mustangs only gave up two shots on goal and withstood the pressure brought by a team that reached the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA tournament last season. 

The Mustangs are coming off a program-worst defensive season. Credit: Annabelle Fagans

“They made us work hard defensively,” Kennedy said. “We ended up playing a man down for a good portion of the game to only give up one goal, I think the guys defended quite well.”

A “tight knit” group

On the offensive side of the ball, multi-goal scorers midfielder Tony Ruiz and junior forward Jackson Kestler return from last year’s squad. Junior midfielder Nate Colley returns for his third season with the captain’s armband.

“I feel like this group is really tight knit and the guys really enjoy being around each other,” Colley said. “We’ve made a big effort to get as much social time and bonding time as a group as we can, and I feel like it’s already paying off on the field.”

The Mustangs also brought in graduate transfer defender Emory Rapaport, who Colley has said stepped up as a leader in the preseason. In total, the squad has 11 upperclassmen to lead the way compared to the year prior when the team had six. 

Beyond just upperclassmen, the team will look for some younger players to be contributors.

The Mustangs now have 11 upperclassmen to just six last season. Credit: Kayla Stuart.

Sophomore forwards Oren Stuppel and member of the 2022 Big West All-Freshman team Sean McTauge both look to be factors in an attack that lost Richie Garcia to the transfer portal and Max Kleinhammes to graduation. 

“We would like to be an exciting team to watch,” Kennedy said. “You want to create chances. We want to do that in different ways obviously when we’re in possession. But then also using a high quality press to be able to create chances when we win the ball back in transition. Those are some of the things that we will try to implement.”

Redshirt freshman defender Joaquin Torres has been praised by Kennedy for his efforts in training.

“His work rate, his (competitiveness), his intensity when he’s defending has been really good,” Kennedy said. “We’re excited for him as he continues to develop.”

Mustangs’ voted to finish ninth out of ten in Big West

Like last year, the Big West coaches ranked Cal Poly in the bottom half of the preseason Big West rankings — this time, they are the ninth team out of ten teams on that list. The Mustangs look to prove the polls wrong this upcoming season.

According to Kennedy, one of the goals the program has for the season is to make sure that the last game of the season, the Mustangs are playing for something.

“Whether it’s for the conference, to be in the conference tournament, to be a higher seed, whatever it is, it’s got to mean something,” Kennedy said.

As for the team, the coaching staff is ready to push through any challenges that may come up. 

“There’s an exciting blend of new guys and returning guys that we’re definitely looking forward to continue to work with,” Kennedy said.

Men’s soccer had one more preseason game against Fresno Pacific at Mustang Memorial Field on Aug. 23 and will open the regular season at home against Oral Roberts on Monday, Aug. 28 at 4:30 p.m.