The friendly confines of the SDSU Sports Deck have been quite kind to the Aztecs Men’s Soccer team over the last couple of weeks. Beating the number one ranked team in the country in your home opener is never a bad way to start your home slate.
That 1-0 victory over the Akron Zips was followed up by a clean two game sweep of the Courtyard Marriott San Diego Central Tournament this past weekend. The hot start to the 2016 campaign has seen the Aztecs shoot all the way to the number 7 spot in the latest Soccer America rankings. In the official NSCAA Coaches poll, SDSU comes in at number 11.
After starting the season as a team on the top 25 bubble, the Aztecs have pulled a bit of a sneak attack on the competition. That surprise factor may be all but gone at this point, as they head to San Luis Obispo for a Saturday night showdown with the Mustangs of Cal Poly.
The key to SDSU’s unbeaten 4-0-1 record has been an unwavering commitment to defending. In their last four matches (all victories), they have held their opponents scoreless and look poised to keep the run of stinginess going against Cal Poly.
Redshirt junior goalkeeper Adam Allmaras has been between the pipes for all four clean sheets, and had an exceptional display of communication in the second half against Akron on September 2nd, with the then top ranked Zips pushing everything forward in an effort to find a late equalizer. Allmaras has developed a strong cohesion with his backline, a symbiosis of sorts, the goalkeeper and defenders feeding off mutual energy and always helping to push one another to the finish line. The emotion was palpable against Akron, but what is also important to note is how calm Allmaras was all the way to the final horn.
Junior forward Jeroen Meefout, the unmistakable 6’4″ Dutchman, was named the Pac-12 Conference Men’s Soccer Player of the Week after scoring four goals in two matches against UT Rio Grande Valley and Memphis in the victorious tournament run. Meefout was the second Aztec to receive the conference award, after Allmaras had taken the honors the prior week, thanks in large part to his second half exploits against Akron.
After the trip to San Luis Obispo, the Aztecs will see a string of five straight home matches as they prepare for the ever daunting prospects of a Pac-12 Conference season. The team must not get ahead of themselves, as this particular northbound journey will not be an easy one.
Cal Poly have had a strange and less than stellar start to the season, five matches in with a record of 1-4-0 to their names. The first two losses came on the other side of the country, to two top 10 teams no less, getting beaten by both North Carolina and Wake Forest.
Going back to last year, Cal Poly are riding a 10 match unbeaten run at their home ground, Spanos Stadium.
Home field advantage has long been a cornerstone of Mustangs soccer. With crowds that have occasionally pushed the five digit mark (specifically matches against their arch rivals, the Gauchos of UC Santa Barbara), Cal Poly is well-known around the state and nation as a college soccer hotbed, where players, coaches, and fans alike take things quite seriously.
Their Head Coach is a name that American soccer fans will be quite familiar with. It’s none other than Steve Sampson, who took over the reigns prior to the 2015 season. The former United States Men’s National Team and Los Angeles Galaxy gaffer has his work cut out for him in San Luis Obispo, but also has the power of a strong soccer culture behind him. (As long as Sampson keeps Brian Maisonneuve away from the pitch, he should be alright.)
Saturday night’s match vs. Cal Poly is a unique homecoming of sorts for SDSU assistant coach Ziggy Korytoski. The coach who many know as the Manager of San Diego’s Albion Pro’s in the NPSL has assisted Aztecs Head Coach Lev Kirshner dating back to 2015. From 2008 to 2010, he was an assistant coach at Cal Poly alongside then head man Paul Holocher. Korytoski was part of the staff that helped lead the Mustangs to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, a run that included a shocking upset of UCLA.
“They take their soccer to heart up there,” Ziggy said. “It is kind of a homecoming for me, and it’s always good to go back. My son was born in San Luis Obispo, and through him I’ll always have a deep connection that city, the Cal Poly campus, and the people in and around the program.”
The Aztecs assistant went on to talk about the match at hand, and what his side will have to do to come home with all three points.
“It’s gonna be a vibrant atmosphere. It always is. It’s also a narrow field, which means we have to be extra disciplined and avoid silly fouls. It’s gonna be a matter of us withstanding early pressure with how emotionally charged I know the Mustangs will be.”
Yet again, the conversation transitioned back to the defensive side of the ball.
“Defense is the key for us. When we stay organized, we’re tough to break down. We saw that especially against Akron. We can take teams out of their games and control space. Lev has done such a tremendous job with these young men in terms of getting them to buy in to their responsibilities. Each guy is doing his individual job for the good of the team. Nobody is above anybody. It’s beautiful to see, and that type of attitude is what’s gonna carry us this season.”
The Aztecs have an impeccable balance of hunger and humility. Combine that with the fact that scoring against them is a near futile mission, and you’ve got a recipe for a national championship contender. It’s still oh so early though, and the Aztecs are focused firmly on the task at hand, and doing everything in their power to have a happy bus ride home to San Diego.
Finishing on a historical note, the Aztecs are going toe to toe with Cal Poly for the first time since Oct. 13, 2000, when the Mustangs won 2-1 in overtime. The two programs have faced each other just four times, Cal Poly leading the all-time series with 3-1-0 head-to-head record. The Aztecs would love to replicate their lone victory in the series, a 5-0 thumping on Sept. 24, 1995.
The match kicks off Saturday night at 7 PM. You can follow @GoAztecs on Twitter for game updates.