Nick Larson & Trent Merfeld
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Entering Thursday night’s match against No. 3 UC Irvine (8-0-2, 0-0-1 Big West) in Alex G. Spanos Stadium, the Cal Poly men’s soccer team (5-2-3, 0-0-1) may have been satisfied with a draw. However, once the final whistle blew after two ten-minute overtime periods, the Mustangs felt robbed.
“I think you feel good about getting a point,“ interim head coach Phil Ruskin said. “But, I look at tonight unfortunately as dropping two points.”
The Mustangs outplayed the Anteaters in the first half, creating more chances and dominating possession.
The buildup culminated in the 43rd minute when a cross by junior midfielder Chase Minter found junior midfielder Matt LaGrassa at the back post. LaGrassa pounded the ball off the crossbar and over the goal line, putting the Mustangs up 1-0.
“Once Minter got the ball out wide, I knew the spot I wanted to be in,” said Lagrassa. “It was more of just a reaction. I was a bit fortunate, but I’ll take it how it comes.”
LaGrassa, the captain, now leads the team with five goals on the season.
It was a tale of two halves, however, as the second 45 minutes did not go the Mustangs’ way.
The Anteaters came out firing, controlling possession early. Against the run of play, sophomore forward John Chronopoulos was taken down inside the box in the 54th minute, earning a penalty kick. Chronopoulos stepped up to take the kick himself, but a weak finish to the right side of the goal found the ball in goalkeeper Michael Breslin’s hands.
“Players miss PKs all the time,” Ruskin added. “We’re not going to hang our hats on that. It’s what your response is afterwards that defines if that miss is going to take you out of the game, or if you’re going to be able to perform for the duration of the time.”
In the 76th minute, the Anteaters were finally able to put one past junior goalkeeper Wade Hamilton, knotting the score at 1-1. Sophomore midfielder Mario Ortiz beat Hamilton at the near post for his first goal of the season.
Despite 12 shots and five corner kicks in the second half alone, UC Irvine was only able to manage the one score.
The golden-goal overtime came and went without a score, and both teams start their Big West Conference play with a point in the standings.
“The Big West is a great conference,” Minter said. “Everytime that you step on the field it’s going to be a battle.”
UC Irvine is the highest ranked opponent to ever play in Spanos Stadium, a fact that was not lost among the players.
“They’re very good at what they do,” Minter added. “But, I think we should have come out with more tonight.”
LaGrassa is optimistic looking ahead to the rest of conference play.
“I think us as a group, we know we can compete with the best, and we’ve shown that,” LaGrassa said.
The Mustangs will continue Big West play on Sunday at 3 p.m. when they host CSU Northridge (4-5-1, 0-0-1).