Quite plainly, tonight’s Cal Poly men’s soccer match against UC Davis at Alex G. Spanos Stadium could be more intriguing than a pair of games left against the Mustangs’ hated rival, UC Santa Barbara.
The Aggies (5-1-8, 3-1-1 Big West) are tied with Cal Poly (8-3-3, 3-1-1 Big West) for first place in the North Division standings and play at 7 p.m. with each team looking to take sole possession of the lead in pursuit of one of the North’s two spots for the four-team Big West Tournament.
The Gauchos (6-6-2, 2-2-1 Big West) are still well in the mix. They host the Mustangs on Sunday and make a return visit Nov. 2.
Though Cal Poly is famous for packing the stands for its matches with UC Santa Barbara, the Mustangs want that same atmosphere for a match with the Aggies that carries as much or more weight this season.
“Everyone thinks Santa Barbara when they think of Cal Poly men’s soccer and the rivalry game,” Cal Poly senior midfielder Steve Palacios said, “but to me, Davis is the most important one and to our team because we know it’s about first place, and that’s the bigger game. Once that game ends, we’ll focus about Santa Barbara, but right now, it’s 100 percent focus on Davis and how to beat them.”
The Mustangs have deemed tonight’s match “Greek Night” as a way to help get the student body excited about supporting the team in person.
No matter the turnout, there will be plenty of drama on the field with the contrasting styles of Cal Poly’s possession strategy clashing with UC Davis’ direct attack. There’s also the question of the Mustangs’ health on the back line.
Cal Poly has been without both starting center back Brett Foreman and fellow defender Nick Carroll for the past three matches. Third-year starter Kody Wakasa has been out hurt for the defense since the fifth match of the season.
Their injury/illness concerns have forced the Mustangs to move attacking midfielder Matt LaGrassa, Cal Poly’s second-leading goal-scorer, to center back.
Amid the changes, the Mustangs have still won three of the past four, and interim head coach Phil Ruskin credited junior Kip Colvey and sophomore Sean Dhillon for stepping up. Dhillon made the first goal of his collegiate career the tie-breaking score in Saturday’s 3-1 victory at Sacramento State.
“The challenge is to keep the guys confident in the players that are going to be playing the game,” Ruskin said. “Everybody’s really clear on their understanding what needs to be done, what our schemes are on both sides of the ball.
“Third game in a row without our top two center backs. That doesn’t mean we won’t have guys that are capable in the backfield.”