Few events are more defining of fall quarter at Cal Poly than the men’s soccer team hosting UC Santa Barbara in a Big West Conference showdown.
Over the past 21 years, the two sides have created a rivalry unlike any other in the nation.
The Mustangs first hosted the Gauchos on September 3, 1994 and won 2-0. Since then, the two teams have what College Soccer News rated the No. 1 rivalry in the nation, noting that “the fan base of both schools have made this one truly special.”
After that crisp September evening, Cal Poly and UC Santa Barbara have played against each other another 40 times, and formally established the Blue-Green Rivalry in fall 2012. The Gauchos have the all-time advantage with a 24-12-5 record, but lately the rivalry has been neck and neck, with the past eight matches yielding a 3-3-2 record for each side.
This Saturday marks a new chapter in the Blue-Green Rivalry for the Mustangs, as first-year head coach Steve Sampson will make his rivalry debut.
Sampson’s credentials read like a young coach’s dream: head coaching positions at the high school, junior college, collegiate, national and professional levels. He coached Santa Clara University to the NCAA championship game in 1989 after serving as an assistant on UCLA’s title-winning team in 1985.
After competing in the World Cup in 1998 as the U.S. Men’s National Team coach and in 2002 as the Costa Rican National Team coach, Sampson turned his efforts toward American club soccer. With Sampson at the helm in 2004, the Los Angeles Galaxy won the U.S. Open Cup and the MLS Cup.
With this kind of star power and experience roaming the sidelines for the Mustangs, the team, at 7-2-3 (2-0-2 Big West), is one win away from equaling its win total from last year’s 8-7-4 campaign. For home games like the one this Saturday, he’s been instilling a comfortable yet focused mentality in the team.
“It’s a comfort zone but we don’t want to be too comfortable,” said Sampson in a press conference this past week.
That mentality will help this Saturday as Sampson’s first experience in the Blue-Green Rivalry will be a tough test.
The Gauchos (9-3-1, 4-0-0 Big West) will bring a talented team to San Luis Obispo. They are the only other undefeated team in conference play and lead the table with 12 points.
Cal Poly’s defense will have to look out for UC Santa Barbara forward Nick DePuy. He’s notched 12 goals on the season, by far the most in the conference, but Cal Poly senior goalkeeper Wade Hamilton is allowing the least goals per game within the Big West Conference (0.79).
“Historically, this is the time when it’s most important for the Cal Poly men’s soccer team to demonstrate that they are of the caliber to make it to the NCAA, to get to the conference playoffs,” said Sampson. “This time of year, right now, and we recognize how important that is.”
With no love lost on the pitch between these two sides, Cal Poly will be looking to gain bragging rights after Saturday’s matchup at Spanos Stadium at 7 p.m.
Grab your tickets, green apparel and prepare to get rowdy, Cal Poly. It’s on.