One of the aspects of the game of soccer that coaches stress is to score first to put pressure on the other team.
“Everybody who watches games knows that when you score the first goal, the game is much easier to play,” head coach Dwayne Shaffer said.
UC Davis (9-1-1) did just that against Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo (6-3-2) on Saturday to capture its first Big West Conference victory, 2-0, and to stay undefeated at Aggie Soccer Stadium this season.
Less than four minutes in – before most fans had settled into their seats – UC Davis jumped on Cal Poly.
On a set play, junior midfielder Paul Marcoux threw the ball in to sophomore forward Miles Hadley who headed it in – the matchup between the 6-foot-6 Hadley and the Mustang defender was almost unfair.
That early goal allowed the Aggies to play at ease and to continue putting on the pressure in front of the Mustangs’ net.
That pressure led to the second goal of the game 22 minutes later when senior midfielder Dylan Curtis sent the ball into goal and senior forward Sule Anibaba booted in the rebound.
“It is a set play we implemented just before the [UC] Irvine game,” Curtis said. “It is just a simple pass through the legs and shot on goal that is set up for a left-footed shot and that’s my terrain. I was able to put a really good shot on goal and the goalie made a really good save.
“I thought I was going to get the goal and then Sule made a very smart, heads-up play to chase the ball in and get the rebound and put it in the back of the net.”
“I know Dylan can shoot very hard,” Anibaba said. “I have been on the team with him for four years. I’ve been waiting to get a rebound one day, and today happened.”
The assist was Curtis’ 10th of the season as he continues to lead the nation in that category – but Curtis still won’t give that much credit to himself.
“It’s a cool accomplishment,” said Curtis. “I can’t say that I am not excited about the fact that I am leading the nation in assists right now, but at the same [time] it takes people putting goals in the net. People like Quincy [Amarikwa], Paul Marcoux, Sule. These guys have been stepping up and putting my passes in the back of the net, so I have to give a lot of credit to them.”
With the help of Curtis, UC Davis did outscore Cal Poly, but the Mustangs were not without chances in front of the net.
The fact that the Aggies registered the shutout was a testament to their defense.
“I thought our defense played extremely well,” Shaffer said. “[Senior] Jordan Vanderpoorten got hurt and [sophomore] Jason Santos came in and did a great job. Overall I am very, very pleased.
“Our goalkeeper Ryan McCowan made a great save at the beginning of the second half to keep the pressure on them and to take the wind out of their sails. He played outstanding again.”
The sophomore notched his fourth shutout of the season with two saves in the season’s first installment of this Aggie-Mustang rivalry.
“Cal Poly is a great rivalry because it is probably the one school in the conference that we go head-to-head with in recruiting,” Shaffer said. “I think the players respect each other. It is a great rivalry and it’s clean. It is so much different than some of the other games that we play.”
In fact, that was one of the most surprising things about this match-up. In the first conference game for both Cal Poly and UC Davis, the squads combined for eight yellow cards and one red card while only one yellow was handed out Saturday.
With a shutout of Cal Poly at home, Shaffer still insists that the best has yet to come from his soccer squad.
“I feel like if every player on our team plays to the top of his potential in one game, and if I coach to the best of my ability, I think we could be really, really good,” Shaffer said. “We haven’t hit that point yet, but it’s in us because I have seen it.
“We played like that last fall and we played like that in the spring. We just haven’t hit that peak yet this fall. Hopefully everybody gets healthy and we get everybody on the field at one time and all our reserves. I think then we will be really, really dangerous.”
MAX ROSENBLUM can be reached at email@example.com.