By Ayrton Ostly
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.
By Eric Stubben, Michael Jorgenson
Before this week’s Blue-Green rivalry men’s soccer game between Cal Poly and UC Santa Barbara (UCSB), Mustang News contacted UCSB’s student newspaper, Daily Nexus, for a Q&A. Mustang News sports editor Eric Stubben spoke via email with Daily Nexus’ sports editor Michael Jorgenson.
Cal Poly is 7–2–3 this year and 2–0–2 in Big West Conference play. The Mustangs haven’t lost a match since Sept. 18, going 3–0–2 in that span. UC Santa Barbara is 9–3–1 this season, featuring a 4–0 record in Big West Conference play. The Gauchos are on a five-game winning streak and play at Sacramento State before heading to Cal Poly on Saturday.
Eric Stubben: Nick DePuy was named College Soccer News National Player of the Week and Big West Player of the Week for his efforts two weeks ago. What has he meant to the Gauchos’ team this season?
Michael Jorgenson: Ever since switching from midfielder to forward midway through last season, DePuy has meant everything for the Gauchos. He’s led the nation in goals since making the switch and UCSB has gone undefeated (15–0–3) in games where he scores. He’s scored in five consecutive games, notching the game-winner in four. Basically, when he’s on, the Gauchos are really tough to stop.
ES: Other than DePuy, who are some UCSB players to look for this weekend?
MJ: Freshman forward Geoffrey Acheampong has been an exciting addition to the team this year. Already being a local star prior to becoming a Gaucho, every time he touches the ball the UCSB faithful already knows to be on the edge of its seat. He’s second on the team in points and can do it all on the offensive end.
Other players to watch are freshman goalkeeper Justin Vom Steeg, son of long-time head coach Tim Vom Steeg, and left back Ismaila Jome, one of the most dangerous wingers in the conference.
ES: The Gauchos have scored 13 goals in their past five games. What makes their offense so difficult to defend?
MJ: What makes UCSB difficult to defend this year is that it has weapons all over the field. Playmakers from the midfield and left back positions are able to join in on the attack and provide opportunities for the Gauchos’ best goal scorers to make plays, and when DePuy has his chances, he rarely misses.
ES: UCSB started 1–2–1, but has gone 7–1–0 since. What changed that allowed the team to really take off?
MJ: Nearly half of the starting lineup was replaced after last season, meaning it was going to take some time before the Gauchos really came together. The core group is an experienced bunch that has grown as a unit for some time, so once the pieces began to fit together, things just clicked. The defense has limited its mistakes in recent games and the Gauchos have made plays late in games when they’ve needed to.
ES: What’s your prediction for the outcome of the game?
MJ: I predict that the Mustangs’ dedicated following and crazy atmosphere will be a difficult challenge for UCSB to compete against. I think it will be a close game, possibly going to overtime, ending in either a 1–1 tie or another late game-winning goal from DePuy.
By Celina Oseguera Graphics by Olivia Proffit
Ever since the Blue-Green Rivalry tradition between the Cal Poly and UC Santa Barbara men’s soccer teams started gaining traction in 2007, getting a student ticket for the game has become less of a leisure trip to the ticket kiosk and more of a mad dash.
This year was no exception.
By Michael Frank