Anytime UCSB and Cal Poly meet up on the pitch, excitement and madness are guaranteed to ensue. It should be no different Saturday night when the No. 5 UCSB men’s soccer team hosts the rival Mustangs in a televised match at Harder Stadium expected to be the highest attended game of the season.
The Big West North champion Gauchos enter Saturday night with a 10-game unbeaten streak and an 11-4-3 overall record and 6-0-3 mark in conference play. Cal Poly, meanwhile, sits tied for second in the North division at 10-7-2 overall and 3-4-2 in the Big West.
“We’re pretty excited to play Cal Poly Saturday because it’s the last regular season game, it’s senior night and there’s going to be a lot of fans there,” freshman midfielder Ismaila Jome said. “So we’re pumped to [try to] get a win in front of our fans.”
When the rivals faced off weeks ago, UCSB and Cal Poly ended in a 1-1 draw in front of a NCAA season-high 11,075 fans at Spanos Stadium in San Luis Obispo.
Last year’s installment of the Blue-Green Rivalry saw 13,467 fans in attendance at Harder Stadium, the fourth highest on campus total in NCAA history. With that many fans in attendance, Blue-Green rivalry games are always noted for the booming crowds and hectic cheers aimed at the rival team.
“It’s very important [to win] because we know we are a better team than them and we have to show that on Saturday,” Jome said. “A win against them, in hopefully a packed Harder Stadium, is the perfect way to end our regular season heading into the Big West Tournament.”
UCSB also has an opportunity to become the second team in history to finish a Big West season undefeated in conference play if they can win or tie against Cal Poly on Saturday.
“We’re obviously undefeated so we want to go into that game and make sure we take care of business, get the three points and then we’ll move on from there,” senior midfielder Fifi Baiden said. “So far it’s good, we’re still undefeated nine games in now.”
With a victory or tie on Saturday, UCSB would also have home field advantage throughout the Big West Conference Tournament, clinching the top record in the entire conference.
By clinching the Big West North, Santa Barbara has already secured a first round bye in the Big West tournament as well as home field advantage through the semifinals.
Despite a scoreless draw against Sacramento State on Wednesday, the third-straight tie for UCSB, the Gauchos are primed to enter the NCAA postseason once again this year, regardless of the results of the conference tournament.
“It was tough. We wanted to go out there and beat Sac State to get our RPI high and everything,” Baiden said. “We didn’t lose but at the same time we wanted a win against Sac State.”
Saturday’s match features some high scoring offenses as Cal Poly leads the entire nation in goals scored and features a deadly weapon in senior forward Mackenzie Pridham who ranks second in the nation with 14 goals this season.
When UCSB faced Cal Poly earlier this season, the Gauchos’ defense held Pridham scoreless in an impressive defensive effort by freshman goalkeeper Josh McNeely.
On the other side of the ball, UCSB ranks third in the Big West in goals scored, but is well suited to slow down Cal Poly as the top ranked defense in the league, allowing only 16 goals this season. The Mustangs, however, rank last in the conference with 28 goals allowed.
“It’s going to be an important game for both teams,” Baiden said. “We lost against them last year so we’re going to make sure we don’t repeat that. We’re going for the win and trying to finish the season strong, going undefeated and winning against Cal Poly.”
Saturday’s Blue-Green Rivalry at Harder Stadium is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. and will be televised on Fox Sports West.
A version of this article appeared on pages 1 and 6 of November 7, 2013’s print edition of The Daily Nexus.
Photo by Peter Vandenbelt of The Daily Nexus.