Cal Poly Men’s Soccer will take on No. 19 UC Santa Barbara in the final match of the regular season Saturday, Nov. 2 in Alex G. Spanos Stadium. While the Blue-Green rivalry is Cal Poly’s most anticipated sporting event of the year, this edition of the match is about much more than just pride and passion.
“This game has a lot of meaning […] everything is on the line for both teams,” head coach Steve Sampson said. “I think that intensity and that significance will be born out on the field.”
The Mustangs (7-7-1, 3-3 Big West) will enter the match in fourth-place behind third-place UC Santa Barbara (10-3-4, 3-1-2 Big West).
Despite both teams already qualifying for postseason competition, Saturday’s results carry heavy significance moving forward. A Cal Poly victory would not only secure the team a home match in the first round of the Big West Tournament, but would move the Mustangs past the Gauchos in the conference standings as well. A UC Santa Barbara victory, however, will grant the Gauchos an opportunity for a first round bye in the Big West Tournament.
“Our mindset is just win,” junior defender Andrew Forth said. “The rivalry speaks for itself. Whether we’re in first-place or last-place, we’d want to win this game no matter what.”
This will be the second match between the two teams this season after the Mustangs faced a 3-1 defeat at Harder Stadium on Oct. 5. A red card to graduate midfielder Colin Hyatt and a Mustang own goal pushed the Gauchos to victory in front of a crowd of 9,748 people — the largest in the nation this season, according to UC Santa Barbara Athletics.
However, Sampson said the Mustangs have grown significantly since they last played UC Santa Barbara less than a month ago.
“I think [the red card] affected our ability to really play for a win, even though we scored a goal with ten men,” Sampson said. “Since then, our team has been playing exceptionally well.”
Cal Poly has won three of its last four matches against Big West opponents, while the Gauchos are riding a three-game winless streak.
“This team is really finding itself right now,” Sampson said. “I think we’re peaking at the right time.”
“This team is really finding itself right now. I think we’re peaking at the right time.”
The match also represents a battle between the top two goal-scorers in the Big West Conference — UC Santa Barbara freshman midfielder Finn Ballard McBride and Cal Poly junior midfielder Emmanuel Perez.
Ballard McBride has recorded nine goals with two assists in his first year of collegiate soccer. The Australia native secured UC Santa Barbara’s victory over the Mustangs earlier this season with a powerful shot from outside the penalty box for the Gauchos’ third goal of the night.
Perez has notched nine goals with three assists and leads the Big West Conference in points. Senior captain Diego Alonso, who has produced a team-leading four assists this season, will be looking to feed Perez a chance to score.
“Right now, it’s just [about] getting revenge,” Alonso said. “We don’t lose at Spanos.”
“Right now, it’s just [about] getting revenge. We don’t lose at Spanos.”
With the Blue-Green Rivalry comes a home-field advantage unlike any other in Spanos Stadium. Cal Poly has only lost two of its last ten home matches against the Gauchos. The venue is expected to reach max capacity as the Central Coast foes have played in front of a sellout crowd in San Luis Obispo every year since 2011.
“The energy is a major boost,” Forth said. “It’s actually crazy because you don’t hear individuals, you just hear loud noise. But when [the crowd] is behind you, you just feel like you can do anything.”
Regardless of the outcome, an impassioned rivalry combined with the importance of Saturday’s result will produce a memorable match that is nothing short of thrilling for all involved.
“Both teams are going to go at it,” sophomore goalkeeper Carlos Arce-Hurtado said. “It’s a clásico.”
Cal Poly’s Big West Conference season finale against rival UC Santa Barbara kicks off Saturday, Nov. 2 at 5 pm.