There’s a reason the Blue-Green Rivalry is the top rivalry in all of college soccer. Any time UCSB and Cal Poly meet up on the pitch, the match is guaranteed to be a full-fledged frenzy accompanied by thousands of screaming fans. That might be an understatement this weekend, as the No. 2 UCSB men’s soccer team travels to face Cal Poly on Friday night.
Santa Barbara is off to its best start ever in conference play with an 11-4 overall record and a 6-0 mark in Big West play. The Gauchos’ seven-game win streak will be on the line against their archrivals, who hold a 9-6-1 overall record and is 2-3-1 in conference matches.
“We’re just pumped because we’re coming off of seven straight victories,” freshman forward Ismaila Jome said. “Cal Poly, I heard, is sold out already, so it’s going to be a crazy game and I can’t wait for that.”
UCSB is one of the hottest teams in the nation at the moment, holding the number two spot in the RPI rankings. With their longest winning streak since 2010, the Gauchos enter Friday night with much confidence with a chance to clinch the Big West North Division title.
After missing the postseason last year, the Gauchos have already clinched a spot in the conference tournament this year and will outright claim the division with a victory or tie against Cal Poly on Friday.
The Gauchos are coming off a 2-1 victory over Sacramento State on Tuesday night, a victory which set the Gauchos with the opportunity to clinch the division on their rival’s home field tomorrow night.
“I think we kind of took some pressure off of that because [Sacramento State] was the game I felt like we had to have,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “Now I think that we can actually go up to Cal Poly without the same kind of stress. I think we can play fairly carefree up there, actually, without a whole lot to lose.”
This season has been a rollercoaster of a ride for UCSB as the Gauchos won three straight come-from-behind overtime matches entering Tuesday night. Now with a postseason trip already in hand, UCSB is focused on one thing and one thing only: Defeating its rival.
“I think what’s interesting about Cal Poly is we’ve taken the pressure off of us because the reality is we’ve got a three-game lead. We’re playing at their place,” Vom Steeg said. “If we beat them or tie them this whole thing is kind of done, we’re the winner of the North and it’s all good.”
Cal Poly enters Friday with mixed results in Big West play thus far. After winning its first conference game, the Mustangs lost three straight matches before rebounding with a victory over Sacramento State. Cal Poly did not help its cause Tuesday night, when it tied UC Davis, the team the Mustangs are battling against for the second postseason spot in the North division.
Despite the Mustangs’ modest success, this week’s installment of the Blue-Green Rivalry is all the buzz in San Luis Obispo as a sellout crowd of 11,075 is expected Friday night. Luckily for UCSB, the Gauchos are used to playing in front of record-number crowds.
“If there’s ever a team that can go up there with their environment [it’s us],” Vom Steeg said. “The field’s really tight, the fans, the stands, the whole setup over there is just really different than our place, other than the people. I do feel like this is the kind of team that can go up there and get a win.”
Leading the Mustangs will be the conference’s leading goal scorer in senior forward Mackenzie Pridham who has totaled 12 goals on the year. Pridham is tied for tops in the entire nation in goals scored and Cal Poly’s 36 goals lead the conference, so the Gauchos will certainly have their hands full Friday.
Nonetheless, UCSB is up to the challenge, as it ranks first in the conference with only 14 goals allowed in 16 games played this season. This will be a critical matchup of the Big West’s top defense trying to slow down the conference’s top offense.
“We’re so excited for [this matchup],” Boyoko said. “I’m sure coach is going to come back with a good tactic to go there and actually win the game.”
Kickoff for Friday’s Blue-Green Rivalry at Alex G. Spanos Stadium is scheduled for 7 p.m.
A version of this article appeared on pages 1 and 6 of October 23, 2013’s print edition of The Daily Nexus.
Photo by Peter Vandenbelt of The Daily Nexus.