Through 74 minutes, the Cal Poly men’s soccer team had no answer for the UNLV defense and goalkeeper Ryan Harding.
The Mustangs had their opportunities, outshooting the Rebels 13-2, but couldn’t find their scoring touch.
That, however, didn’t worry Cal Poly head coach Paul Holocher.
“In the second half, it looked like we had definitely wore UNLV down a little bit,” Holocher said. “We were creating a lot more quality chances and we all kinda felt that it was a matter of time before the goal would come.”
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In the 75th minute, forward Ian Clark proved his coach’s intuition right. He shot a ball past Harding in the bottom right corner of the net, scoring his first career goal and propelling the Mustangs to a season-opening 1-0 victory over UNLV on Saturday night at Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
“Right off the start, I saw George (Malki) look up and I just thought, I’m on,” Clark said. “He just played it right to me and I slotted it in the bottom corner.
“As soon as it went it, it was just amazing relief.”
The shot gave the Mustangs a win in the first game of their season-opening, five-match homestand, and in Holocher’s eyes, some much needed momentum.
“Every game is critical. Every game is an NCAA playoff game,” Holocher said. “We’ve been there before where we’ve won 11 games and not got into the playoffs. Especially at home, you need to take care of business.”
Taking care of business at home is just what the Mustangs have done recently, having gone undefeated in their past eight home matches, including Saturday night, dating back to last year.
And in doing so, the Mustangs got an impressive offensive output from a front line that lost a lot last season to graduation. Among those who left were David Zamora, who tied the Mustangs’ all-time scoring mark last year with his 25 career goals, and Junior Burgos, who became the first player in program history to be selected in January’s Major League Soccer SuperDraft when he was taken in the third round by Toronto FC.
Those two, along with midfielder Tim White, were a key part of Cal Poly’s offense, combining for 11 of the Mustangs’ 22 total goals.
Forward Chris Gaschen comes in as the team’s best returning offensive option. He had three goals in 2010, one of which was the game-winner in the Mustangs’ 2-1 overtime victory against UC Santa Barbara on Oct. 27.
Against UNLV, the Mustangs showed they can still be an aggressive team up front, Clark specifically. The sophomore, who had one shot attempt all of last season, had three Saturday.
A performance like that makes Holocher think there won’t be too big of an offensive dropoff from a year ago.
“I think our offense is going to come around, I really do,” Holocher said. “I mean you saw it today. We probably could have scored four or five goals ... the goals will come.”
The Mustangs will need them for the next four home matches, two of which are against teams who played in the postseason in 2010. However, with his team’s performance against the Rebels, Holocher is ready for it.
“I thought it was a terrific team performance,” he said. “I thought we were very, very good in limiting a very dangerous team to only three shots. It’s what we’ve been training on for the last two weeks and the guys showed very well today.”