With non-conference play in the books after the Oct. 4-6 weekend, Men’s Soccer head coach Steve Sampson said he expects “every single match to be a dogfight” in the upcoming Big West Conference season.
“Every game is going to be important,” Sampson said. “You cannot go into any game with unrealistic expectations because anybody can beat up anybody else on any given day in this conference. So I expect it to be very entertaining from the fan standpoint, but very intense competition for all of us.”
In the last five seasons, four different teams have hoisted the Big West conference championship trophy. However, none of these teams have been Cal Poly.
Sampson’s expectations for conference play was not without merit based on his conference rivals’ records.
Six of Cal Poly’s seven conference opponents — Cal State Fullerton, CSUN, Sacramento State, UC Davis, UC Riverside and UC Santa Barbara — finished their non-conference schedules with records at or above .500. The Mustangs’ (4-4-1) seventh Big West rival, UC Irvine, has more wins and draws combined than losses with a 3-4-4 record.
“It looks like it’s going to be tougher than the past seasons,” junior midfielder Emmanuel Perez said.
Perez scored seven goals in five straight matches during non-conference play as the Mustangs went undefeated in five matches out of a six-match span before losing to the Gauchos 3-1 on Saturday, Oct. 5 to finish non-conference action.
“Just by seeing the results, you can tell that everyone’s been working really hard and that they’re coming out and everyone wants to win,” Perez said.
Two Big West squads have received recognition from college soccer poll voters as of Monday, Sept. 30.
Cal State Fullerton (8-2-1) is now ranked No. 14 in the nation, with wins against then-No. 14 Florida Gulf Coast and then-No. 18 Loyola Chicago in non-conference play.
Blue-Green rivals UC Santa Barbara (7-2-2) received 22 points from poll voters in the Sept. 30 poll, and had a notable 3-3 draw against then-No. 1 Stanford, a member of the Pac-12.
“This year, more than ever since I’ve been here, and this is my fifth year [at Cal Poly], the conference seems to be doing exceptionally well,” Sampson said. “I think maybe only the Pac-12 Conference right now is a better conference overall than the Big West. But even in the Big West, they’ve taken on some Pac-12 teams and done very well against them.”
Sampson praised the Titans, who began the season with an 8-match winning streak, but said their hot streak may not translate to conference play, and other teams may rise up. Last season, UC Riverside finished non-conference play with a 4-8-1 record before winning the Big West Conference tournament.
“It is all about peaking at the right time, playing your best soccer when it really counts and getting a little bit of luck,” Sampson said. “You have to have a little bit of luck.”
Most teams in the conference have winning records, and no team has dominated the Big West as a whole in recent years.
Mustangs are not shying away though, as they are looking forward to the beginning of conference play next week.
“It definitely feels like everyone’s just bought in on the same idea,” Perez said. “We want to have a possession oriented team. We want to play out of the bag, … and we’ve been really working on that. We have a real good identity this season and we’re holding ourselves to a really high standard and that’s just paying off on every part of the field.
Conference play for the Mustangs begins Wednesday, Oct. 9 against UC Davis at Alex G. Spanos Stadium at 7 p.m.