Records: UC Irvine 14-1-6 (5-1-4, first in Big West), Cal Poly 10-5-6 (5-2-3, T-2nd in Big West)
Last Meeting: The Anteaters and the Mustangs met only once this season on Oct. 22. The teams tied 1-1 after double overtime. The Mustangs got on board in the 77th minute on a header by Julian Alvarez. The Anteaters then won a penalty kick opportunity with 59 seconds remaining and Matt Murphy would convert to tie the game. Despite having the only goal come from a penalty kick, the Anteaters out-shot Cal Poly 21-10 on the match.
Overview: UCI and Cal Poly represent two of the four Big West teams in the NCAA tournament, the most ever for the conference. Judging by UC Davis’ 4-0 victory over Denver in the first round, the Anteaters look to have, out rightly, won the toughest Big West schedule ever.
Unfortunately, the Big West can only get up to three teams in the Sweet 16, and the Anteaters and Mustangs will have to duke it out for one of those spots on Tuesday.
The ‘Eaters, hot off their Big West Tournament win, have all the confidence in the world. However, Cal Poly knocked off Pac-10 champion UCLA 1-0 on the road last Friday in first round play. Cal Poly halted UCLA’s eight-game winning streak, which included a 2-1 win over the Mustangs a couple weeks ago.
The 14th-seeded Anteaters are fortunate to play on their home field as Cal Poly brought a whopping 11,075 fans to their last premier home match up against UCSB. The tie between UCI and Cal Poly did come at Alex Spanos Stadium.
It’s the first time both teams are participating in the tournament, and Cal Poly has already felt the pressure in their match against NCAA soccer traditional power UCLA. Now it is the ‘Eaters’ turn.
Cal Poly Offense: David Zomora, an All-American selection last season, is the leading goal scorer for Cal Poly with eight on the season. Fellow sophomore Kyle Montgomery leads the team in assists with 10, and Julian Alvarez leads the team with 16 points. The Mustangs will be without sophomore Ryan Anderson, the lone goal scorer against UCLA, because he received a straight red card after retaliating against a UCLA elbow shortly after his goal.
The Mustangs are not prolific on offense, but make the most out of their few chances. They have earned big wins over ranked opponents such as UCLA and UC Davis with clutch goals from their big men and gritty defensive play.
UCI Offense: The injury of sophomore Spencer Thompson, who is second on the team with 21 points, was a blow for the team. He injured his ankle against UC Davis a week ago and has not regained complete form yet. No need to worry, as Amani Walker has stepped in and provided solid play atop. Along with Irving Garcia and Rafael “Pollo” Macedo, Walker has created problems up top. The three smashed UCSB for four goals in the first half of the Big West final.
However, Thompson is getting better day-by-day and looks to contribute on Tuesday. As if Cal Poly didn’t already have enough on its plate, they also have to deal with the leading points man in UCI soccer history, Matt Murphy. Murphy is a threat every time he touches the ball and will be a big reason for UCI’s success in this tournament. Carlos Aguilar can provide a good shooting leg off the bench, and Gray Bailey’s big throw-ins are basically corner kicks.
Advantage: UCI. Just look at the numbers and the names.
Cal Poly Defense: This is where the Mustangs shine. The Mustangs are led by Big West Co-Goalkeeper of the Year Eric Branagan-Franco. He tops the Big West in saves per game (4.67), save percentage (.831) and shutouts (eight), while ranking second in goals against average (0.89). He has come up biggest against the biggest of opponents. He had eight saves against UCLA, 11 against UCI, and 10 against UCSB. Another feature player on the squad is defender Patrick Sigler, who was awarded Big West Co-Freshman of the Year. The stingy Mustang defense has only allowed 20 goals in 21 matches and has a conference-leading eight shutouts. Sigler also has the ability to create on offense as he has five goals and an assist on the season.
The Anteater offense will have to keep doing what it’s doing and more to get past this restless defense.
UCI Defense: While the Mustangs have big names in Franco and Sigler, the Anteaters have even bigger ones with freshman Andrew Fontein and senior David Sias.
Fontein, the MVP of the Big West Tournament, was the other Co-Freshman of the Year and only allowed more than two goals on two occasions. He had a dominant Big West tournament where he recorded 11 saves, nine of which came against UCSB in the final.
Sias was named Big West Defensive Player of the Year. He lead an Anteater defense that only allowed 21 goals in 21 matches, one more goal than Cal Poly. As a captain, he has been the emotional leader and the solid performer on the field day in and day out.
Kyle Schmid and Gray Bailey are the two backs who do the dirty work, and Shane Westbrook is the consistent presence alongside Sias.
Edge: UCI, but not by much. The Anteaters have the better record to show for it, but Cal Poly did just knock off UCLA.
The New U’s Pick: UCI 3 Cal Poly 1. Big West Coach of the Year George Kuntz will have the team mentally ready and ready to execute.