Five years ago, a Friday night soccer match could hardly be considered the biggest sporting event of the year. But when the Gauchos come to town tonight, a full house will watch the men’s soccer team take the field at Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
With an average attendance of 7,360 fans per match over the last four years, the Central Coast rivalry between Cal Poly and UC Santa Barbara has proved to be the premier sporting event of the school year. In last year’s televised match at Alex G. Spanos Stadium, 8,125 supporters saw junior midfielder Chris Gaschen down the Gauchos with a strike two minutes into the first overtime — and that was on a Wednesday.
Senior goalkeeper Patrick McClain witnessed the goal from across the pitch.
“It was awesome,” he said. “I had the feeling we were going to win. We just needed someone to step up and take the reigns, and Gaschen did that. It was such a brilliant goal and a brilliant moment, it was very special.”
Since 2007, Cal Poly-UC Santa Barbara games have produced six of the top 14 attendance totals in NCAA regular season history. This year, the Big West foes will play their two matches on Friday nights, a recipe for more potential record-breaking figures.
And it’s not just the students who get excited for the match.
“The fact that both teams are great and on the central coast really brings out the rivalry,” head coach Paul Holocher said. “Along with two passionate student bodies that love soccer brings such an audience to the game.”
Holocher is in his sixth season as head coach, but he has lead the Mustangs to victory over UCSB just twice. Both were 2-1 wins at home.
“You don’t need to ‘ra-ra’ at all for the game,” he said. “In the locker room before the game, the players can hear 10,000 people cheering, and that gets their adrenaline running. This year we hope a lot of guys step up and are able to make a lot of memories.”
The Mustangs will enjoy home field advantage in the series opener, but only four times have the Mustangs prevailed against the Gauchos in the previous 20 meetings. Cal Poly snapped a seven-game winless streak against the Gauchos with the overtime triumph at home a year ago. However, the Mustangs are still seeking their first victory at Harder Stadium in more than 12 seasons.
In his four years at Cal Poly, defender Patrick Sigler has started or played significant minutes in each UC Santa Barbara game. He said he’d like nothing more than to come away with two more victories in the Central Coast derby by the time he graduates.
“Last year we beat them, we’ve tied them, we’ve lost,” Sigler said. “We’ve pretty much done everything but win in Santa Barbara. This year, hopefully, we can get a huge win on the road that can lead us into the playoffs.”
The road to victory will, most likely, be lined with cheering fans, according to Sigler.
“The fact that it’s on a Friday night most definitely should (result in) a higher attendance,” Sigler said. “When we got the schedule, we all looked straight to when we were playing UCSB and we all thought, ‘Alright, sweet.’ We’re expecting 12,000 to 14,000 people.”