[follow id = “njlarson8”]
In front of 14,345 fans — the fifth-largest crowd to ever watch an NCAA soccer match held on a campus — the Cal Poly men’s soccer team (8-4-4, 3-2-2 Big West Conference) came away with a 2-2 draw against rival UC Santa Barbara (7-6-3, 3-2-2).
In the first installment of this season’s Blue-Green soccer rivalry, the Mustangs started strong. After dominating the opening 15 minutes, Cal Poly cashed in. Redshirt freshman Kaba Alkebulan perfectly sent a long ball into space, allowing sophomore midfielder Justin Dhillon a clear path toward goal. Dhillon calmly slotted the ball past the keeper to the far post, putting the Mustangs ahead in the 14th minute.
“(Alkebulan) gave me a great flick to go on through,” Dhillon said. “The goalie’s coming out and trying to cut down the angles, but I found a little spot far post and just put it away.”
The rest of the half, though, was controlled by the Gauchos. UC Santa Barbara out-shot the Mustangs 12-6 in the first half, forcing junior goalkeeper Wade Hamilton to make some incredible reflex saves.
“Positioning is a big key,” Hamilton said. “I’m not thinking too much about it, it’s just like my hand or my foot goes there.”
Hamilton made six saves in the first half alone, twice as many as the Gauchos keeper made in the entire match.
The second half started much like the first for the Mustangs. In the 52nd minute, Dhillon found himself on the receiving end of a pass from sophomore defender Jack O’Connor and proceeded to smash home a shot from just outside the box. Dhillon tripled his goal tally in this game, bringing his total this season up to three.
The Mustangs’ two-goal lead was short-lived, as the Gauchos struck back just a minute later. Ludwig Ahl was able to finally beat Hamilton, slotting home a ball to the back post and cutting the Mustangs’ lead in half.
The Gauchos’ dominance of the second half persisted, as they were able to find the equalizer in the 66th minute. Nick DePuy was left wide open in the center of the box, chested down a cross and dinked it over Hamilton’s shoulder.
The final 25 minutes saw more dominance from the Gauchos, but they were unable to get past Hamilton and the rest of the Cal Poly defense. The match went into overtime for the eighth time in the last 17 matches between the two teams.
Despite the extra 20 minutes of play, no team could prevail.
“I thought we were good in the first half,” interim head coach Phil Ruskin said. “Unfortunately, in the second half I think we took a lot of pressure. Overall to come here to a stadium like this with a monstrous crowd, to come away with a point in the league is one step closer to our goal of winning the North division in the Big West.”
The Gauchos out-shot the Mustangs by an astounding 30-10 margin, forcing Hamilton to make 10 saves, the second-most of his career.
“You really don’t want to have to rely on your goalkeeper to make those big-time saves,” Ruskin said. “But I feel very calm at night knowing that we have one who will help us, so I can’t say enough positives about Wade.”
The Mustangs will look to get back to their winning form when they host Sacramento State on Oct. 29 in Alex G. Spanos Stadium.