Paul-Michael Ochoa, The Daily Nexus sports editor, predicts UC Santa Barbara will top Cal Poly 2-1, while Mustang News sports editor Stephan Teodosescu predicts a 1-1 draw.
In anticipation of Friday night’s rivalry matchup between the Cal Poly men’s soccer team and UC Santa Barbara, Mustang News and UC Santa Barbara’s student newspaper, The Daily Nexus, exchanged questions about the opposing schools’ soccer team and the upcoming game. Mustang News sports editor Stephan Teodosescu spoke with The Daily Nexus sports editor Paul-Michael Ochoa.
Stephan Teodosescu (ST): Everyone on Cal Poly’s campus knows the magnitude of this game. What’s the feeling like in Santa Barbara regarding the Blue-Green Rivalry?
Paul-Michael Ochoa (PMO): The players are definitely pumped up for this game. UCSB enters the match with a seven-game win streak and the players have no intention of letting Cal Poly end this run. There was a noticeable confidence among the players in the locker room following Tuesday night’s victory over Sacramento State, as the Gauchos are one of the hottest teams in the nation ranked No. 2 in the RPI rankings this week. As if the Blue-Green Rivalry weren’t motivation enough, if UCSB wins Friday, the team clinches the Big West North title, a goal of the squad entering the season. Players are pumped to play against rivals in front of a sold out crowd with a winning-streak on the line. Bring the noise, Cal Poly, and you can be sure the same will be done when the Mustangs visit Santa Barbara on Nov. 9.
(ST): Who are some UC Santa Barbara players to watch for in Friday night’s match?
(PMO): A pair of seniors in forward Achille Campion and Goffin Boyoko lead the Gauchos with six goals apiece and pace the offensive attack on most nights. While the two seniors have been the most consistent for UCSB, it is the emergence of two freshmen that has truly made the Gauchos dangerous this season. Midfielder Drew Murphy leads the Big West with seven assists this season, while forward Ismaila Jome ranks third with six. Defensively, UCSB features a veteran-laden backline with four seniors and freshman goalkeeper Josh McNeely. UCSB leads the conference with only 14 goals allowed on the season, so goals should be hard to come by Friday night.
(ST): The Gauchos are 5-0 in Big West Conference play up to this point. What can you take away from their first five conference games?
(PMO): This team straight out fights until the last whistle. UCSB hasn’t really dominated anyone in conference, but they are a scrappy team and find any way to win. The Gauchos successfully pulled off three straight comeback overtime victories on the road and have received clutch plays from seemingly every player on the squad. Even if down a goal or two, there is no counting out this UCSB team until the clock hits zero.
(ST): In the early going, UC Santa Barbara used to dominate this rivalry. Do you get a feeling that the scales have started to tip in favor of the Mustangs these last few years?
(PMO): In the last 10 seasons, Cal Poly has finished ahead of UCSB in the conference standings once, which came last season when the Gauchos failed to make the postseason, ending a 10-year streak. Admittedly, last season was a disaster for Santa Barbara, but one year does not epitomize this rivalry. The Mustangs give us hell every season, especially on the road, but as the results will show, UCSB still remains top dog in this rivalry in terms of overall success. If Cal Poly can rebound this season starting Friday night and defeat UCSB, maybe then the success in the rivalry will shift to the north. For now, it is too early to tell if the Mustangs sweep over the Gauchos was an anomaly or a sign of things to come.
(ST): UC Santa Barbara hasn’t won since 2008 in San Luis Obispo. What’s your prediction of how Friday night’s game turns out?
(PMO): The Gauchos are entering this matchup with their confidence at a season-high. UCSB has won seven straight, is off to a 6-0 start in conference play and simply finds a way to win in even the most hostile environments. Earlier this season, the Gauchos pulled off a 2-1 overtime victory on the road against then No. 4 Cal State Northridge. This team is used to big crowds and is absolutely fired up for the challenge awaiting on Friday. The key will be if they can continue to rebound from early deficits as they have done thus far in conference play. I predict UCSB comes out motivated and clinches the Big West North on their rival’s home field with a 2-1 victory.
(PMO): What is the atmosphere in San Luis Obispo for the Blue-Green Rivalry? I’ve heard it is already a sell-out.
(ST): As of Thursday at about 10:30 a.m., the Blue-Green Rivalry is a sellout. It’s the first time the game has sold out prior to the actual match. The atmosphere will be rocking, and as is usually the case, it should be the most hostile environment the Gauchos will have to play in this season. The pitch at Spanos is narrow and the stands are really close to the field, meaning that 11,075 screaming fans will make sure every chant, insult and cheer will be heard by the visiting team. It’s the biggest game of the year for students on Cal Poly’s campus, so you know the Mustang faithful will bring the noise.
(PMO): Who are the key players to watch for Cal Poly on Friday?
(ST): Key players to watch for are forward Mackenzie Pridham, true freshman winger Ari Lassiter, senior midfielder George Malki and senior defender Connor Drechsler. Pridham and Lassiter up front have helped Cal Poly to its nation-leading 36 goals on the season. Specifically, Pridham leads the Big West with 12 goals and is just two tallies away from Cal Poly’s all-time record, while Lassiter has five goals to his name in his first collegiate season. Both Malki and Drechsler have started since their freshman years, so you know they’ll want to make this — their final taste of the Blue-Green Rivalry — worthwhile.
(PMO): Cal Poly enters Friday with a losing record in conference play. What’s the team’s mindset entering the game with the Big West North crown nearly out of reach?
(ST): It looks like UC Santa Barbara is running away with the division title, but considering last-place Sacramento State’s woes and barring a monumental collapse, the Mustangs should make the postseason. The mindset is the same as always: take care of business in each game and the results will come. With four matches left it’s all about conference tournament seeding, so I’m sure the Mustangs would like to snag at least a second-place finish in the North.
(PMO): As you said, UC Santa Barbara hasn’t won in Cal Poly since 2008. What has allowed the Mustangs to defend their home field so successfully against the Gauchos in recent years?
(ST): Home field advantage is what’s keeping the Mustangs in the win column in this rivalry. Every year that UC Santa Barbara marches into San Luis Obispo, the Gauchos seem to have the better team on paper, but as every Cal Poly player will attest to I’m sure, there’s nothing more invigorating than hearing and seeing the crowd support for this matchup.
(PMO): What is your prediction for Friday night’s rivalry matchup?
(ST): My prediction is that UC Santa Barbara plays a better game, but in this rivalry anything can happen. I think the Gauchos will score the first goal, but Cal Poly will get one back in late in the match. My final score: 1-1. But expect one of the most exciting, heated matchups this game has ever seen. The Mustangs play a possession-minded game and simply score a lot of goals, so more than anything, I predict this to be the game of the year for fans of both sides to watch.