The Cal Poly men’s soccer team (9-1-1, 4-0-1 Big West Conference) defeated defending national champion No. 15 UC Santa Barbara (6-2-4,3-1-1 BWC) for the first time since Nov. 7, 2000 in a 2-1 victory Wednesday night as they pushed their winning streak to eight games.
Both teams were fighting to maintain their undefeated first-place conference standings in the Big West.
The Mustangs had momentum coming into the match after blanking UC Davis 3-0 Oct. 14, upping their winning streak to seven. The Gauchos were coming off a 2-2 tie to UC Davis on Oct. 12. They lost their 2-1 lead with less than six minutes left in the match.
Big West Player of the Week freshman David Zamora had two early shots on goal in the first half to no avail. Fellow freshman, Kyle Montgomery also had a failed shot attempt in the ninth minute of the match. Although the three shots were unsuccessful, they all happened before UCSB had one attempt.
The record-setting crowd of 7,143 erupted in the 16th minute of play when an unassisted Zamora scored his fifth goal of the season on a free kick from the top of the box straight into the top-right side of the net to put the Mustangs up 1-0.
“I (kept) hitting the post and this time it went in. It was a great goal,” Zamora said. He also commented on the crowd, saying,”We play for the crowd, we play for the school and we hope they come out and support us.”
The previous record for a crowd was 2,694 on Nov. 7, 1986 against UCLA.
The Gauchos upped their intensity level near the end of the half as they had several shot attempts after the 40 minute mark. They tied up the contest with 34 seconds left in the half when sophomore midfielder Ciaran O’Brien assisted fellow sophomore midfielder David Walker. He headed the ball into the left frame of the net.
“We played great for 44 minutes and 30 seconds . it was just that one lapse on that cross,” said junior Anthony Grillo.
Both squads ended the half with five shot attempts.
The Mustangs opened up the second half strong as they scored in the 49th minute Grillo sliced the ball past the Gaucho defense into the left side of the net, putting Poly up 2-1. He was assisted by freshman forward Tim White.
Grillo, who usually plays defense for Poly, was put into the game as a right midfielder with eight minutes left in the first half. Head coach Paul Holocher, who was testing Grillo out in different parts of the field due to the injury of forward Daniel Cumming, said, “I couldn’t be happier that Grillo scored the game-winning goal.” Holocher also said that Grillo has a great character and work ethic at practice and has improved tremendously.
In the 61st minute, O’Brien sent a scare through the 7,143 onlookers as he kicked a laser past Poly defenders only to watch the ball bounce off the right goal post and out of play.
Freshman Gaucho defender Michael Boxall was awarded a yellow card in the 80th minute of play for his high level of physicality. The entire game was physical with a total of 45 fouls among both teams.
Boxall left the match in the 89th minute after he was awarded his second yellow card for a hard tackle. Midfielder Chris Pontius also received a yellow card. After the incident, the Poly crowd began to chant “overrated.”
Poly knew going into the game that it would be physical. Holocher urged his team not to fall into the trap of playing the Gauchos’ game.
“The best defense is a good offense. We had to put them on their heels and we did,” Grillo said.
Poly goalkeeper Eric Branagan-Franco saved a shot attempt with one minute left and sent his squad up the field to finish the match.
Of the record-setting crowd, Holocher said, “I looked behind me and I looked in front of me and there wasn’t an empty seat and they were the reason we could pull something out like this.”
The Mustangs will try to keep their winning streak alive as they pack up their bags for a trip to UC Irvine on Oct. 20.
In response to how the team will adjust to being on the road after their homestand, Zamora said, “We’re going to play like we’re at home.”