With the best non-conference record in the Big West, the Cal Poly men’s soccer team is ready to face some of the top teams in the league: one top-25, one top-scoring, and one defending national champion.
Their record (5-1) improved after a 1-0 win over Cal State Bakersfield on Sept. 23, sending them to the No. 1 slot. UC Davis and No. 25 UC Irvine follow in second place each with a 5-1-1 record.
Mustang head coach Paul Holocher said he is really happy with where the team is at the conclusion of the pre-conference schedule.
“The games have given us confidence,” he said. “But at the same time we know the toughest games are coming.”
He is also pleased with the team’s balance; though there are only three seniors on the team, the number of key juniors help make for great production.
Cal State Fullerton (4-3) will host the Mustangs Sept. 29 following up on a 2-1 victory against Coastal Carolina on Sept. 23. Senior Skyler Thuriesson scored the winning goal in overtime, ending the Titans’ losing streak.
Bob Ammann is in his second season of coaching the Titans, which consists of 13 letter-winners and eight starters from last season. Three of the four high-scorers of last season have also returned, including Big West Freshman of the Year and All-American Michael Farfan, who has five goals and four assists under his belt.
Thuriesson has three goals and three assists from last season; together he and Farfan aim to better their 7-11-1 record from last year.
The Mustangs last played the Titans in November 2006, with Fullerton prevailing in the 2-0 match.
Following the Fullerton game, the Mustangs will travel to UC Riverside (3-2-2) on Oct. 6 and open “The Best in the West” homestand against No. 25 UC Irvine Oct. 10.
UC Davis (5-1-1), the highest-scoring team in the nation at 3.29 goals per game, plays Cal Poly Oct. 14. The Mustangs finish up the homestand with a game against defending NCAA Champion UC Santa Barbara (3-2-2) on Oct. 17.
Cal Poly’s 5-1 start to the season is one of the best in its Division I history. In 1998 the Mustangs started at 5-1-1 and finished 11-7-2, and in 1995, the team began at 6-0-1 and ended 11-6-1 overall, marking the only year the program has made its Division I NCAA Tournament appearance.
The Mustangs have already won two games this past week at the Alex G. Spanos Stadium, over CS Bakersfield and then Wright State 3-0. Mustang goals scored in the Wright State game were made by Cal Poly’s Kyle Montgomery, Daniel Cumming and Tim White. Goalkeepers Eric Branagan-Franco and Collin Sculley recorded a shutout.
Cumming has proved a powerful offensive force for the team. The sophomore from Victoria, British Columbia has four goals and two assists with a .333 shooting percentage. The combination has earned Cumming 10 points for the season, placing him at third in the Big West.
Branagan-Franco also has a place in the Big West standings with four shutouts.
“Now that we are entering the Big West, we will expect games to be a lot more aggressive and physical,” Branagan-Franco said. “We as a team need to focus one game at a time for us to have success.
“All of the teams in the Big West are good; they all have played tough games and all are capable of pulling off upsets.”
Center defender and team co-captain Lenehan agreed with Branagan-Franco, saying, “There are no weak teams in the Big West so we have to approach each game with an overwhelming desire to outwork and outcompete each team.”
The defense figures to be key to their victories.
“The team is proud of its ability to defend as a unit, which is obvious when people look at our results and see that we have shut out five of the six teams we have faced,” said Lenehan.