Driving rain, consistent heckling and a flurry of yellow cards made for a hard fought 2-1 victory for the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS) men’s soccer team over Pomona-Pitzer (P-P) in their first Sixth Street Rivalry match of the 2023 season.
From the opening whistle, it was clear that the crowd, gathered on the hill and nearly overflowing onto the field at P-P Soccer Field, was in for a show. The Stags fielded a physically imposing side, showcasing an extremely aggressive style of play that forced P-P into a shell around their goal for most of the first half. CMS head coach Edward Cartee described how the Stags took advantage of the Sagehens’ defensive scheme.
“We played out of a 4-3-3, and our outside backs pushed into the attack a lot in this game because of the space we were able to create,” Cartee said. “[P-P was] very compact in central areas. So they were playing narrow and the space was open for us out wide.”
The Stags used this space expertly, pummeling the P-P left side with diving runs from Shaan Malek CM ’26. Malek was a consistent outlet and demanded the attention of any P-P defender he was matched against.
“We’re a team that likes to keep possession and most teams that we play turtle in defensively,” Malek said, “I think it really played to our strengths today.”
P-P countered the consistent offensive pressure with a stalwart defense, matching the Stags’ physicality and managing threats, but struggled to transition play out of their own half. Center back Mattin Khoshzaban PO ’24 was a consistent force, sticking hard tackles and sparking the few charges that the Hens were able to lead across the half-field line.
The first half ended with this back and forth amounting to plenty of shots but no finishes. P-P was outmatched offensively, putting up two shots to CMS’s nine.
Both teams went into halftime looking for a change, seeing how they could respond to each other and create scoring opportunities in the second half. P-P departed from their usual offensive-minded 4-3-3 formation, experimenting with a 3-5-2. This allowed for more defensive play, a necessity for a Sagehen team that is missing multiple key transition players to injury. In the second half, P-P head coach Mike Ditka hoped his team would be able to settle into the new scheme and find their rhythm offensively.
“We’ve changed systems and we just haven’t had a lot of time to go over these details,” Ditka said. “We were able to focus on the defensive side, which was good, but now it’s a question of how we can get to a point where we’re actually transitioning and attacking.”
Ditka also discussed how they looked to counteract any adjustments from the Stags side.
“At halftime we thought that they may go for a little different system, even though it was working for them, because it wasn’t creating anything dangerous,” Ditka said. “Our goal was to release our 2 and 3 [wingbacks that facilitate transition in a 3-5-2 system] and get a little higher.”
The game finally opened up when Adam Leikin PZ ’27 put out a strong tackle on a driving Stags forward. The P-P student section exploded when the referee blew his whistle, sending a chorus of “weight room” chants raining down on the Stags side.
The Stags would take advantage of that set piece to put a beautiful ball into the box. On a back post run, James Gomez CM ’27 found the ball and smashed into the back of the net. The CMS fan section exploded, as the players rushed to their fans to celebrate. The P-P student section deflated in anguish. After fighting from behind in driving rain and cold wind for the past fifty minutes, spirits were crushed.
Still, forward Aidan MacLennan PO ’27 kept his head up, and before the CMS student section had finished cheering, he weaved through the distracted Stags defense and found a stunning goal to tie the game right back up 1-1.
This spark of action brought the game back to more relentless attacks from the Stags’ offense. Forwards John Laidlaw CM ’26 and Rafael Otero CM ’25 created consistent threats throughout the game but bore down hard in the last minutes, giving P-P very few opportunities to leave the defensive third. This relentless onslaught eventually tore through P-P’s hard defensive line when service from the Stags’ left side broke through the box and found Otero, leading to the goal that would eventually seal the game.
“John started the game and every time he’s come back in he’s making amazing plays, taking on defenders and making two assists,” Malek said. “Rafael was one of our most consistent players and he also got the winning goal … He controls play week in and week out.”
With ten minutes left on the clock, P-P kept their heads up and led one last dangerous charge into the Stags defensive third. The field welled with anticipation when P-P sent a shot that floated slightly above the woodwork, and with that, the game came to a close, sealing a 2-1 victory for the Stags.
The loss moves P-P to 1-3-2 in conference and 2-5-3 overall. With a bye next week, Ditka said they plan to use their time perfecting their new system and reviewing film before taking the field again versus La Verne at 7 p.m. on Oct. 7. Meanwhile, CMS now holds a 2-2-1 (4-2-2) record and will travel to challenge Caltech at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 7.