Matt Lalanne / Mustang News

The Cal Poly men’s soccer team lost 2-1 to UC Santa Barbara Saturday night in the latest edition of the Blue-Green Rivalry. As usual, the match was hard fought by both sides for 90 minutes, but the Gauchos managed to come away with the win in front of another sellout crowd at Alex G. Spanos Stadium.

Coming in to the game, the Mustangs (3-8-2, 1-4-1 Big West) were optimistic, wanting to win out the rest of conference play and have a chance at the NCA tournament. If they won, the Mustangs could have played spoiler to the Gauchos’ (8-5-2, 4-0-2) hopes of running away with the conference title.
Many expectations and one night to make it happen.

The game got off to a rough start as multiple fouls were called in the first ten minutes.  A physical style of play favored the Gauchos with their bigger starters, including forward Nick DePuy at 6-foot-5 and midfielder Kevin Feucht at 6-foot-3. The Mustangs’ starters were at a size disadvantage and had to overcome the slippery conditions to have a chance at victory.

That aside, it looked like there might not even be a 44th edition of the Blue-Green game.

The referees stopped the match at the 13-minute mark due to scores of tortillas raining down from the crowd onto the field. Six minutes later, the announcer relayed multiple warnings to the sold out crowd that the game would be canceled if tortillas continued to fly.

But the game continued on after the warnings and freshman midfielder Christian Enriquez scored the first goal of his career 31 minutes into the match. Enriquez fired the shot unassisted from 20 feet outside the penalty box. As the ball slid past the Gauchos’ freshman goalkeeper Titouan Le Roux, the crowd at Spanos erupted in cheers and shook the stands in elation.

“We already had an advantage with the fans so we were pretty hyped up from that,” Enriquez said. “Scoring a goal in the first half just gave us more confidence to keep going.”

However, the lead would not last long.

Three minutes later, the Gauchos gained possession near Cal Poly’s net following a foul. After a few passes around the penalty box, junior forward Ahinga Selemani tied the game for the Gauchos. His shot deflected off the hands of junior goalkeeper Eric Kam into the back corner of the net to quiet the
Mustang crowd.

The 1-1 tie would carry into halftime as neither team completed attacks in the waning minutes of the half. Coming out of halftime, the rain started to pour down on the field and made the already damp conditions worse for both sides. Nevertheless, the Mustangs had multiple chances at scoring in the first 15 minutes of the second half.

Enriquez knocked a through ball in the 53rd minute to senior forward Justin Dhillon but was just inches too far for him to head into goal. Junior defender Tony Scimeca tried his luck at a header three minutes later, but Le Roux snagged another save. Enriquez later fired a pass from the corner to Scimeca in the box but the shot was far too high to make it in the goal.

With the Mustangs unable to make the most of their attacks, the Gauchos had the chance to score the go ahead goal. Following a foul in the penalty box, Feucht lined up for a penalty kick.

He drilled it into the corner of the net, as he’s done a conference-leading eight times before.

That shot proved to be too much for the Mustangs to overcome.

Sophomore forward Jared Pressley’s shot in the 76th minute came just feet away from tying the game, but was too wide. He had great position five minutes later, but Enriquez’s through ball missed him. Redshirt sophomore defender Nick Carroll had a corner kick on the Gauchos’ side of the field and got a chance at scoring off a blocked shot but his attempt was well wide of the goal.

As time wound down, desperation led to penalties for Cal Poly. Pressley and senior midfielder Ruben Duran were both given yellow cards in the 86th minute, two of the three total given to the team. By the final buzzer, an exhausted Mustang squad walked the edge of the field to high five the fans in defeat.

On paper, this game favored the Gauchos in almost every way. They were a bigger, more experienced, high-scoring team at the top of the conference standings. The Mustangs putting up such a good fight is a win in itself and gives the team a plan to go off of for next Saturday’s rematch in Santa Barbara.

“We need to play faster in the first half and take advantage of finding the open spaces in the opposite side of the field,” head coach Steve Sampson said. “Those little details, understanding where the spaces are and how to exploit them, that has to take place next week.”

The nation’s best rivalry didn’t go the Mustangs way this time but provided a great show in its 44th chapter. If this young Cal Poly team can put it together before the end of the season and into next year, the next chapters of the men’s soccer Blue-Green Rivalry will likely look different on the scoreboard.­­­

“Overall, with the young players—Jared Pressley, [sophomore midfielder] George Grote, Christian Enriquez, [freshman midfielder] Kenny Higgins, this program has a bright future,” Sampson said.

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