There is no better rivalry in college soccer than UCSB-Cal Poly… at least, not over the last two years.

Actually, for the vast majority of these programs’ histories, the rivalry has really been non-existent, at least in soccer. But something changed after the Gauchos won their 2006 national title, and the results have been astonishing.

In the 2007 and 2008 seasons, the top three attendances nationally were as follows:
UCSB at Cal Poly, Oct. 17, 2008: 11,075 fans.
Cal Poly at UCSB, Nov. 5, 2008: 9,749 fans.
Cal Poly at UCSB, Nov. 3, 2007: 8,102 fans.

The other regular season pairing of the two squads ranks a mere seventh on that list, with 7,143 fans packing Cal Poly’s Alex G. Spanos Stadium on Oct. 17, 2007.

Obviously, the fans come out in droves for these Central Coast rivals. But do the games live up to the hype?

Take the first game — the one that started it all. It may have only drawn 7,143 fans (a good *season* turnout for most programs) but it brought the local rivalry to the big stage in a big way. The year after UCSB won the national championship, Cal Poly brought what was then a Big West record attendance to see the Mustangs upend the Gauchos 2-1. The fans rushed the field, and the rivalry existed in earnest.

Just two weeks later, the Gauchos broke that record and broke the Mustangs’ hearts when they brought 8,102 fans to watch a devastatingly cold and foggy match. The play on the field more than made up for the poor conditions though, as UCSB came from behind to grab a 3-1 win. To make it more exciting, Santa Barbara’s three goals came in the second half, in a span of just over 5 minutes.

Then, in 2008, in front of even bigger crowds, the Gauchos and Mustangs upped the ante even more. UCSB quieted 11,075 (minus the 100-odd Gaucho faithful in attendance) in a heartbeat when Chris Pontius scored 10 seconds into double overtime to give the Gauchos a big win. On top of that, UCSB had been down a man since midway through the second half.

On the home-end for SB, the two squads played to a scoreless draw (short on goals, not on drama) that drew nearly 10,000 fans despite its Wednesday night scheduling. Just one week later, the teams met up again in the Big West Tournament with the Gauchos prevailing on penalty kicks.

This year, the Mustangs started off the season with high expectations but faltered against a tough nonconference schedule. However, they may have found their groove of late and are off to a 2-0 conference start. The Gauchos, meanwhile, are a top-10 squad riding high on a 3-0 drubbing of national powerhouse Indiana on national television. But you can bet the farm that both teams will come out fired up and ready to give it their all.

So, when you ask yourself whether or not you should go to tonight’s game with the Gauchos northern rivals, just use history as a guide. This is not a game you should miss.