The Cal Poly men’s soccer team fell to No. 10 UC Santa Barbara 3-1 in its Big West opener Wednesday at Mustang Stadium.
The Mustangs (4-5-0, 0-1) came out strong and battled against the Gauchos for the majority of the match. However, during a short stint in the second half, UCSB (5-2-1, 2-0) capitalized on some Cal Poly mishaps and broke the match open.
“We played outstanding, but we fell behind on a mistake,” Cal Poly coach Wolfgang Gartner said. “We had our chances too… They got their opportunities, they took them, and they won- That’s the difference between the teams.”
The Gauchos scored first during the 12th minute. Senior forward Ivan Becerra intercepted a short pass, dribbled through the Cal Poly defense and found senior forward Jonathan Davis streaking towards the goal. Davis slipped by Mustang goalie Jeremy Coupe, who was outside the box, and netted his fourth goal of the season.
Cal Poly responded just over two minutes later when a UCSB foul led to a Mustang free kick. Sophomore midfielder Nikhil Erlebach chipped a short pass off the mark to senior Moses Venegas, who drilled in his third goal of the season to tie the game 1-1.
Combat between the teams continued for the remainder of the half, but the match was still tied at the 45-minute mark.
UCSB threatened to score early in the second half when a Gaucho player passed to Becerra, who fired a short-range shot on goal. However, Coupe came up with the save.
Led by a stellar offensive play by senior forward Ivan Becerra during the 66th and 67th minutes, the Gauchos were able to break the game open. UCSB took the lead 2-1 after Becerra scored on an unassisted goal on a breakaway. Within 90 seconds, freshman midfielder Eric Avila collected his third assist of the season after hitting Becerra down the field. Becerra snuck through the entire Cal Poly defense to score an open-net shot. The goals were Becerra’s fifth and sixth goals of the season.
“We found our forwards in the second half and created some chances,” UCSB coach Tim Vom Steeg said.
Cal Poly got a chance to retaliate off a free kick during the 85th minute, but came up short when Venegas rifled his shot off the post. Senior midfielder/defender Justin Woodward got the rebound, but his putback sailed wide. Venegas and Woodward led the Mustangs in shots with three and two respectively.
“It doesn’t matter when you play (Cal Poly), it’s always like this,” Vom Steeg said. “It’s a hard team to play against. They’re very physical and competitive.”
The Gauchos, last season’s NCAA championship runners-up, have consistently proven to be fierce competitors for the Mustangs, who are now 8-13 against UCSB.
“This is a tough team,” Gartner said. “They’re notorious for being the most physical team in America. They dished it out and we didn’t answer that.”
The Gauchos outshot Cal Poly 12-18. Coupe collected six saves for the Mustangs, while Gaucho goalie Kyle Reynish had one.