Cal Poly looks to continue its four-match unbeaten streak at home against the Gauchos on Friday. “Hopefully we’ll be able to come out at Santa Barbara with some fire and just play our game. We want to play for our fans and give them all a show,” Mustangs senior forward Mackenzie Pridham said.
Jefferson P. Nolan
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No Cal Poly sporting event gets so packed that students have to buy tickets beforehand. And rarely does an event sell out — well, except for one. And it can only mean one thing.
The Gauchos are coming.
Senior George Malki is no rookie when it comes to the Blue-Green Rivalry. The midfielder netted the winning goal last season when the Mustangs pulled ahead in the 77th minute. And, as he can attest, there’s something special about this time of the year.
“There’s a buzz around campus,” Malki said. “All you hear is ‘Friday’s game, Friday’s game … Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara. ’I just tell those who ask that we’re going to play our way and we’re just going to come out and compete. When we compete, it’s difficult to break us down.”
But while the “buzz” is very much alive at Cal Poly, No. 21 UC Santa Barbara will return to Alex G. Spanos Stadium with bitter memories.
Cal Poly executed a full-season sweep of the Gauchos last season for the first time since 1997.
But believe it or not, the Mustangs’ victory wasn’t what put the nail in the coffin of the Gaucho’s 2012 campaign.
After a more-than-disappointing season last year, Friday’s matchup can be considered a “do over” for the UC Santa Barbara soccer team.
Just last season, the Mustangs hosted the Gauchos following UC Santa Barbara’s announcement that even if the team made playoffs, they would reject any opportunity to compete in postseason play.
Hopes for playoff contention ended for the Gauchos when senior defender Peter McGlynn was handcuffed and escorted off the field following an altercation with a referee in their game against UC Davis.
After a one-game suspension was issued to head coach Tim Vom Steeg and McGlynn’s dismissal from the team, UC Santa Barbara had nothing left to lose.
But the Gauchos believe in second chances.
“I think that they have a renewed motivation,” head coach Paul Holocher said. “They have a team that’s hungry and young, and they want to make life difficult for their opponents with their style of play. With their big team, they play a very direct, physical style. They’re going to be looking to compete.”
Currently sporting their longest winning streak since 2010, UC Santa Barbara (11-4, 6-0 Big West) is coming to San Luis Obispo after winning its last seven matches.
Talk about a turnaround.
Respectively, Cal Poly has lost three of its last six conference games — most recently tying UC Davis 1-1 on Tuesday night.
Now, Cal Poly will aim to bolster its postseason chances with a victory on Friday night.
For, as everyone on the team can admit, leading Division I in goals is great, but it doesn’t mean a thing when the wins aren’t coming.
UC Santa Barbara is “on a roll right now,” Holocher said. “They’ve won five games in a row. They’re a very, very good team. They’ve got a lot of good players, they compete, so it’s a great challenge for us. They want to utilize their size, and we want to utilize our passing game. So the styles are different, but it makes for an intriguing matchup.”
Senior forward Mackenzie Pridham, currently the Mustangs’ leading scorer, has also seen his share of the Blue-Green Rivalry. And, like Malki, the Big West Offensive Player of the Year can’t wait to play in front of the mass of supporters once again.
“The hype behind the rivalry and the crowd we bring with all the fans is pretty special,” Pridham said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to come out at Santa Barbara with some fire and just play our game. We want to play for our fans and give them all a show.”
So on Friday night, the fans will clench their tortillas, the Mustang Manglers will blow their vuvuzelas and a solid portion of the crowd will sport their “Buck the Gauchos” T-shirts as they cheer on their Mustangs in a game that has been called the best rivalry in Division I soccer.
And, as Holocher said, it’s a rivalry that can’t help but make for an interesting soccer match.