Tonight is going to be big. UCSB heads up to Cal Poly to take on the Mustangs on national television tonight at 8. The Big West regular season attendance record is likely to be broken for the third consecutive time in this series. And for good measure, the winning team will stay just about even with conference-leading UC Davis in an incredibly competitive Big West race.
“I think it’s going to be the craziest game I’ve ever played in,” senior forward Chris Pontius said.
Pontius has played in the national championship, in front of crowds of 8,000 at Harder Stadium, and on the road at the likes of UCLA, Indiana and Ohio State. He knows something about crazy games.
“You come to UCSB to play in big games,” the Gauchos’ leading scorer said. “And this is an opportunity to do just that.”
Pontius’ fellow senior attacker Nick Perera has been there, too. Both he and Pontius played last year in front of over 7,000 fans at Cal Poly, where the Gauchos were upset in a 2-1 loss.
“It’s a tough stadium to play at,” Perera said. “It’s very enclosed, loud and there’s a lot of echo.”
“But I really like playing in front of big crowds, especially when they’re against us,” Perera said. “It’s a motivating factor.”
UCSB is going to need to be motivated tonight, because there is no doubt Cal Poly will be.
“No team comes out flat against UCSB — we have to expect the absolute best from them,” Perera said. “It’s a good chance to prove that we’re very serious about this league, too.”
The Mustangs are led by senior midfielder Julian Alvarez, who has paced the attack with four goals and three assists. David Zamora, a freshman All-American last year, has scored five goals for Cal Poly. Meanwhile, on the supply-side of the attack, sophomores like Kyle Montgomery are rarities within the walls of Harder Stadium.
Pontius commands most of the attention of opposing defenses, as he is one of the premier goal-scorers in the country. His 10 goals and three assists easily give him the points lead on the team, but they also attract extra attention from his opponents. Fortunately for UCSB, the Gauchos have several scoring options to take some of the pressure off their co-captain.
Perera has four goals, and against Riverside finally looked like the same player who earned the College Cup Most Outstanding Offensive Player award just two years ago. In that contest, the senior scored twice and dominated the Highlander back line in the limited minutes he was needed for.
“It was about time,” Perera said. “There’s no better time than in league to get goals, because that’s when points are most valuable.”
UCSB will need all the production they can get tonight, as Cal Poly is without question a formidable foe. But the Gauchos are confident.
“I really don’t see Cal Poly stopping us,” Pontius said. “If we put our A-game on the field and play well for 90 minutes, I have no doubt that we’ll come away with a win.”
Gaucho fans certainly hope he is right. UCSB needs all the wins it can get if the Gauchos expect to retain the Big West crown they have worn for four of the last five years.
“Every single game counts now,” Perera said. “In previous years we could afford ourselves one stupid loss on the road. … We can’t do that anymore.”