Sagehens men’s soccer draws Cal Lutheran in fifth tie of the season

Sean Donovan PO ’24 prepares to strike the ball in match against Cal Lutheran on Oct. 11. (Adam Akins • The Student Life)

Another physical game was entered into the logbook of Pomona-Pitzer (P-P) mens soccer team’s arduous season. A smattering of yellow cards marked the high tension on the pitch as the Sagehens battled with the Cal Lutheran Kingsmen for a 2-2 tie on Oct. 11.

According to head coach Mike Ditka, the Sagehens have suffered nagging injuries over the course of the season, forcing them to alternate formations and strategies to look for success. Ditka said he has experimented with heavily defensive 5-3-2 formations and dynamic organizations of the back line in 4-4-2 team compositions, but, thanks to students returning from abroad and injury, the Sagehens were able to return to their native 4-3-3.

“It’s been a lot of adapting,” said Aidan MacLennan PO ’27. “As long as we can do that the positions don’t matter.”
The game, however, was an opportunity for the Sagehens to get a break from the constant adaptation. Nicholas Mikhal’s PO ’25, the return of Kyle Lau PO ’25 — who reached the semifinals with Hong Kong’s u23 national team in the Hangzhou Asian Games — and a recovering Kieran Veloria PO ’27 allowed the Sagehens a return to comfort play as they welcomed back veteran voices on the pitch.

“[Veloria] is obviously a really talented technical threat on the team for attack,” Ditka said. “It was great to have another attacking option to come in and fight for those minutes.”

The Sagehens led the game from the start, countering attacks from the physical and scrappy Cal Lutheran side and controlling play through the middle. According to Ditka, this was an element of their play that had suffered greatly due to injured players. The Sagehens, with the help of a streaking and dynamic Mattin Khoshzaban PO ’24, who repeatedly carried the ball from the defensive third and facilitated transition play, rallied from the back to meet attacks from the Kingsmen and demand respect on the ball.

“Mattin was amazing as a left back today, the stuff that he does on the ball is amazing,” Ditka said. “He’s a super talented player that can make a difference in a lot of different lines and positions.”

Khoshzaban’s repeated drives continued, but a lack of clinical link up play in the final third resulted in struggles with connecting runs to dangerous shots on goal.

Near the end of the first half, the Hens crumpled for a moment in front of their goal, allowing a throw from the keeper into an immediate offensive steal converted to an open shot, letting the Kingsmen sneak a goal in the closing minutes of the first half. P-P was forced to go into halftime with this cloud over their heads, but Mikhal said they knew they couldn’t let it get to them.“The biggest thing was just trying to shake it off, it made it feel like a bad half but we played well,” Mikhal said. “We had energy and we knew that we just had to get work.”

The Hens did just that and kept their heads up, creating play with a newfound energy in the second half. Aggressive play led to a cross to find Keyon Namdar PO ’27 on the head, tying up the game less than ten minutes into the half. Cal Lutheran’s physically imposing side geared up after this goal, laying on heavy pressure and challenging P-P players, resulting in three yellow cards per team.

“It’s really physical, teams love to make a scrappy game and it makes it hard for us to play our game,” Mikahl said. “We just have to keep that intensity up the whole game.”

By the 70 minute mark that intensity paid off. An aggressive run into Cal Lutheran’s box saw Lau draw a penalty kick, which Nicolas Ulrich PZ ’26 confidently slotted past the Kingsmen’s keeper.

Unfortunately, the Sagehens struggled to keep up the offensive pressure after the gift of the PK and fell back into their more defensive formation, struggling to keep up with an onslaught of attacks from Cal Lutheran. This barrage broke through P-P’s barriers in the last fifteen minutes of play when the Kingsmen finished a corner, tying up the game.

The Hens rallied enough to keep Cal Lutheran from finding another goal but couldn’t break through, making the game the Sagehens’ fifth tie for the season in all play. However, while the rest of the 5Cs take off for fall break, the team is looking forward to challenging La Verne on Oct. 14.

“La Verne, we’ll be able to stay in our typical shape and now they’ll haven’t seen that so I think it’s gonna be a little bit of a surprise for them,” Ditka said. “We had to adjust our shape for them last week, and it’s going to be a surprise for them to see us with our guys back.”

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