Senior forward Hayley McNallan sent a 22-yard free kick through the legs of Mustang goalkeeper Sandy Oceguera for the lone Anteater goal as the UC Irvine Women’s Soccer team fell to the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Mustangs 2-1 in Irvine’s Big West opener.
‘One play lost the game for us,’ said Head Coach Marine Cano. Cano was referring to a Mustang corner kick at the 6:29 mark when Mustang junior midfielder Stephanie Hedien found fellow junior midfielder Erin Martin at the far post for a powerful header for a goal.
The Mustangs [10-1] did not act like it was an away game for them, bringing a large crowd that cheered louder than the UC Irvine [6-3-2] crowd in the opening ceremonies. That’s just the way Cal Poly started the game, with intensity and fearlessness.
They dominated the game’s opening minutes, winning the majority of the loose balls, dominating the time of possession, and creating more goal-scoring opportunities than the flat Anteater squad.
McNallan and freshman forward Lauryn Birkenshaw were stranded alone up top, with little help from an Anteater defense facing much more pressure than they were used to.
‘They pressed us more than we pressed them,’ Cano said.
Birkenshaw would ignite an Anteater revival, creating two very dangerous chances that nearly put the Mustangs back on their heels.
In the 24th minute, Birkenshaw hit a full volley from outside the penalty box that sailed wide to the right of the goal and nearly picked up an assist when she beat two defenders and slotted a crossing pass to freshman midfielder Britney Webster, who just missed tying the score.
But the domination by the Anteaters was short-lived, and they fell back into a slump.
Fortunately, the Mustangs did not put anything else on the scoreboard, and left the field at halftime up 1-0.
‘We played 20 minutes of good soccer and that’s not enough,’ said a frustrated Cano.
The next 20 minutes were launched off by a beautiful 25-yard shot from sophomore forward Kim Lloyd, which beat the Mustang keeper only to be denied by the crossbar.
The Anteaters showed that they still had a pulse, and began to take over the game. They were beginning to make things happen, but simply could not get the ball in the back of the net.
The Mustangs soon capitalized on the Anteaters’ inability to finish. Mustang freshman forward Sharon Day had been causing all sorts of problems for the Anteater defense and scored an overdue breakaway goal in the 71st minute to put Cal Poly up 2-0.
Cano substituted McNallan back into the game in the 73rd minute, along with sophomore forward Lauren Baer, which turned out to be a great decision.
Just five minutes later, Baer took the ball down the right side and was fouled, earning a free kick 22-yards from the goal.
McNallan would make good use of the kick, putting it right through the legs of the Mustang keeper to bring the score back to 2-1.
‘Coach [Cano] always says in practice that if you put it low, hard, and on frame, good things will happen,’ McNallan said.
The Anteaters fought for a penalty kick when Lloyd was fouled right at the edge of the penalty box.
Referee Mark Arblaster made the call for a free kick, but Lloyd and the rest of the Irvine team disagreed.
Lloyd even spoke with Arblaster after the game, and Arblaster explained to her that she was ‘fouled outside of the box, and landed inside.’
McNallan claimed that there was a divot inside the box where Lloyd was fouled, but couldn’t change the referee’s mind.
The ensuing free kick taken by McNallan sailed just over the crossbar.